“Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.” – James Cromwell
Many of us appreciate the companionship, support, and unconditional love animals provide. If you own a pet, you can become so close to them that they become part of the family. In case something happens to you, it is extremely important to have documents in place to ensure they receive care in your absence.
Fortunately, a comprehensive estate plan can include a pet. Depending on your situation, the options available to provide for them should you become incapacitated include:
- In a last will and testament, legally designating who you want to care for your pet(s) after you have died and any funds you leave to them for pet care and maintenance.
- A letter of intent, which lets you name someone to care for your pet(s). You can also detail how they should care for them and for how long and mention any funds you've set aside for pet care.
- A payable-on-death bank account that allows a beneficiary to use the money toward your pet's care.
- A durable power of attorney can include a pet provision which legally authorizes and instructs someone to be your agent(s) to care for your pet(s) in case you die or become incapacitated. You may also give a loved one limited agency under power of attorney for your pet's maintenance in a limited durable power of attorney document.
- A pet protection agreement – This less formal document lets you name a caretaker and leave money for your pet's maintenance, and/or:
- A pet trust – Similar to a living trust that holds cash and other assets, a pet trust lets you state how to handle assets left over after the animal passes away. You may fund a trust with money from your estate or an existing life insurance policy naming the trustee as a beneficiary. A pet trust is valid in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but each has its own laws over them and how long they last. By Maine law, a pet trust terminates upon the death of the animal or the last surviving animal. If you own several pets or those that require lots of upkeep and expense, such as prize livestock or horses, you can establish more than one pet trust. Beyond a trustee, you may also name a successor trustee to manage assets for your pet's continued care. You can also designate a separate trustee and caretaker.
Some of these options require probate, but most of them do not. Your pet can continue to get care immediately. If you cannot assign someone to handle your pet's arrangements, you may leave your pet to a humane society, a rescue, or another animal welfare group. Some of them also offer lifetime care for a fee or a donation.
More Ways to Plan for the Love and Care Your Pet Needs
Whichever option you choose, list your pet's favorite toys and foods, their feeding schedule, and other routine activities, such as:
- Whether they need to go for walks and when
- Their grooming schedule and costs
- Annual check-ups and any existing health conditions
- Their life expectancy
- Estimated annual care costs, including boarding and feeding
Ensure you have permission from any caretakers you designate to serve in that role, that they know the responsibilities involved, and that they have copies of all estate planning documents.
In case of financial fraud or abuse, make your pet easy to identify through micro-chipping, photos, and a description. In your planning, also consider end-of-life care and burial or cremation arrangements for them.
An experienced and knowledgeable lawyer can create an estate plan based on your needs and those of your pet(s). If you need advice, attorney Cassandra Morin is passionate about helping people ensure their pets continue to get the love and care they deserve. Call (207) 377-6966 or contact us online today.