Can I Put Pets in My Will?
Dog and Cat: Getty
We asked Petside’s Advisory Board members what it means to put a pet in your will.
Nancy Taylor, President and CEO, Bideawee: Each year thousands of pets become homeless because of an owner’s death. With no one left to care for them, these animals end up in shelters, on the streets and those that can’t be adopted could be euthanized. Because of this, it’s wise to plan for your pets’ care before the time comes when you are no longer able to do so yourself. More people than ever are making provisions for their pets in their estate plans and there are definitely right and wrong ways to go about protecting your four-legged family members in the event of your death.
Just putting your pet in your will, however, has its dangers and many times this effort alone will not be enough to protect your wishes. First and foremost you must identify a person (much like you would for your human children) or an animal welfare organization that is willing to serve as a pet guardian. Have a candid discussion with your chosen pet guardian to verify that he or she is willing to serve in this capacity. Additionally, you should name a secondary guardian in case that person is unable or unwilling to care for your pet(s) when the time comes.
Second, you should include some type of financial provision for the lifetime care and medical costs of your pets. Pet care and medical expenses can be funded in a variety of ways based on your circumstances, and with proper planning can be handled through one of the following investment vehicles: a 401(k), life insurance policy, separate bank account, IRA etc.
Further, your wishes should be backed up by a legally-binding document. Pet Trusts and/or contracts are preferable to wills when stating your wishes for your pets. The risk with entrusting your directives in a will involves the time that can elapse before a will is probated. (The probate process can often take months or years and during this period your pets could be in limbo with no home, no caregiver and no financial resources.)
There is a growing trend toward fee-based programs developed by animal welfare organizations that provide lifetime care for pets after your death while providing peace of mind for you. In fact, our organization recently launched one such program. Bideawee’s Loving Legacy ® program offers customized, high-quality life-care that fits the individual needs of your pet without the worry that your appointed guardian may not fulfill his/her responsibility. The program ensures that your pet spends the rest of its life in a warm, caring and compassionate home environment with a permanent foster family. This turn-key service includes supervised visits by trusted professionals to determine that social and emotional needs are met, a lifetime of annual physical exams, all age-appropriate vaccinations and health screenings as well as special medical care should the need arise.
As a pet parent, your love and commitment to your pet is everlasting and planning for your pets’ care should something unforeseen happen is the smartest thing you could do. But planning for them means doing your homework – making sure you have guardians in place and the financial resources that go with taking care of a pet. Contact your local animal welfare organizations and find out if they have programs like Bideawee’s Loving Legacy program. If they do, ask how are they cared for? Are they adopted out? Do they live their lives in a shelter? What about their medical needs? And what are the costs associated? These are all questions you will need to ask and the answers will lead you to choose the option that is best for you and most of all, best for your pets.
Mike Arms, President Helen Woodward Animal Center: Agreed! Not only can you put your pets in your estate plans, you should make a point of it. If you really love your pet, you will make sure it’s provided for in the event that you can no longer care for it.