It wasn’t very long ago that the idea of including family pets in an estate plan was and odd idea. Times have certainly changed. A survey conducted back in 2006 shows that nearly 70% of families consider their pets as family members, not property. Unfortunately, the law still considers pets to be property, which means estate planning attorneys have become efficient at creating ways to provide for these beloved “family members” in the best way legally possible. Different methods have different benefits. One method is to include provisions in a will as part of your pet estate planning.
The need for pet estate planning
These days, the percentage of clients who consider estate planning, want to take the steps necessary to ensure that if their pets outlive them, these pets will be taken care of. This is obviously a reasonable concern, as most animals left after their owners die, end up being surrendered to shelters and most likely euthanized. The good news is, with careful planning, you can provide for your pet’s future and be sure they will always have a loving home.
Making your pet a beneficiary of your will is not allowed
According to the law, animals are considered property and property cannot own other property. As one court put it, “[a] dog, for all its admirable and unique qualities, is not a human being and is not treated in the law as such.” What this means for you is that you cannot simply leave money or other property, to your cat or dog, in your will. If you name your dog as a beneficiary, that property will instead go to a residuary beneficiary, who is the person that receives everything not specifically left to someone else. Otherwise, your pet will go to your closest relative under the laws of intestate succession in your state. In other words, your dog or cat will receive nothing, and will not be guaranteed a home.
How to provide for your pet’s future through your will
There is a way to use your will provide for your pet, in the event of your death. Your estate planning attorney can include a provision in your will that gives your pet to a relative and friend, along with a certain sum of money to be used for your pet’s care and support.
There can be some disadvantages to this method, however. Although you can use provisions in your will to provide funds to be used for the care of your pet, there is no way to enforce those provisions. Instead, the guardian you appoint could take the money for themselves and drop your pet off at a shelter. If you use a will, it is crucial that you discuss your intentions with the guardian you intend to appoint. Make sure you choose someone you trust and that he or she is willing to take on the responsibility. Something else to consider is the fact that a will must go through the court probate proceedings, which can take several months. As such, your pet may be without care or support during that time. If you have questions regarding pet provisions in wills, or any other pet planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.