Meet Floyd and Mildred.
Floyd and Mildred are our two Basset Hounds. In fact, I often refer to them as “fur children” because I can’t imagine not living with their stubbornness (i.e. the eyerolls), howls, and squirrel-chasing. They are, all kidding aside, an absolute joy in my life.
I often hear people talk about their pets as if it is a given that the pets will predecease them. Trust me, I don’t even like to think about using the word “death” and “Floyd and Mildred” in the same sentence. But, the truth of the matter is, what happens if you predecease them? What if no one wants to take them in –or—a family wants to take them in, but it would put them financially in a bind?
It happens more frequently than you may think. In fact, while preparing to write this blog, I did a little research. Naturally, I went to a search engine and was attempting to retrieve some eye-opening statistic. Instead, one of the first items on the list was: “2 Bassets Homeless After Pet Owner Dies Without a Plan.” As you can imagine, I was speechless. I read the article and the two Bassets ended up entering the local shelter upon their owner’s passing. The Director at the shelter stated, “Sadly, these two Bassets are like many animals we get to the shelter. There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t get several animals due to a death of the owner.” (You can find the article here: http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2016/04/07/2-bassets-homeless-after-pet-owner-dies-without-a-plan.html)
Some may find it silly and some may find it totally reasonable, but the option exists to include a pet provision in your estate plan. The following are three ways to plan in advance for the care of the Floyds and Mildreds in your life should you predecease them:
- Write a Letter of Instruction. This may be the most informal way to include caring for your pet in an estate plan. It can be typed or handwritten, but I would prefer it at least not be on a napkin! The Letter can be as general as a “I designate Aunt Nancy to care for my pets.” or as specific as “I designate Aunt Nancy to care for my pets, here is how I would like them treated, and I would like $5000 given to Aunt Nancy at the time of my death for their care.” Consider this option an open letter to that person and from there, you can lay out your instructions.
- Include a “specific bequest.” This is a more formal way to include caring for your pet in an estate plan. A “specific bequest” is simply a specifically stated gift in a Will or Trust. For example, I may say: “I leave my diamond ring to my niece, Berkley, at the time of my death.” –or—“I leave $10,000 to my friend, Jane, at the time of my death in order to care for my pets.” Again, like the Letter of Instruction, you have the ability to be as general or specific as you please. The formality of a specific bequest is that it is included in a legal document like a Will or Trust.
- Create a Trust. This may be the most formal way to include caring for your pet in an estate plan. Furthermore, this is also an option for individuals that would like to provide an ongoing stream of income to an individual opposed to a lump sum. A Trust would not only allow for an immense amount of customization including the “how” to care for a pet, but also the “how much” and “how often” you would like to pay the designated individual.
When individuals do their estate plan, pets are often forgotten about. It is (likely) not on purpose. Instead, a majority of individuals do not realize there are options to include them in an estate plan. If including the Floyds and Mildreds in your life is important to you, I recommend that you either amend or create a plan to include a provision specifically regarding your pet(s). After all, you have the power now to ensure they get the love and care they deserve for the rest of their lives if you were to predecease them.
~ Jennifer Rozelle, Law Clerk