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Updating Your Will? Don't Forget Your Pets!

October 6, 2014

By Robert D. Steinberg

Everyone should have a Last Will and Testament, regardless of whether or not you think you have many assets. A will makes it easier for your heirs to open an estate if necessary and enables you to ensure that someone you trust will carry out your wishes. But when considering your assets, don’t forget to consider your most precious belongings, your pets. People often forget that their pets may survive them, and they need to consider how best to provide for those family members in the event of their death.

Keep in mind that despite recent advances in the law regarding animal rights, for the most part, pets are treated as property under the law. You can’t leave money outright to a pet.

While the best solution is to leave your pet with caring family members, it is unwise to automatically assume that family members will care for a pet. If you are lucky enough to have close family members who already love your pet, discuss this issue with them and find out whether they share your sensibility when it comes to the pet’s future.

A close friend is always a good second alternative. In that case, make sure that your friend will be able to provide the same care as you do and that they face no major obstacles to the care of your pet, such as allergies, lease restrictions or time constraints. It is unfair to leave a pet with someone who simply has no time or insufficient resources to guarantee a happy life for your animal. Think about the cost of veterinary care, medicines, grooming and food. Also make sure that you consider the specific needs of your pet and its life expectancy. Some birds or turtles live well over 50 years, so a 90 year old might not be an appropriate choice for such a pet.

In conjunction with leaving your pet to a family member or trusted friend, you might want to make a monetary bequest to this friend in your will, contingent upon that friend taking your pet. This bequest need not specify any terms, as long as you feel confident that this individual will take proper care of your pet.

As a last resort, if you simply have no relatives or friends to care for your pet, you might resort to leaving your pet to a shelter. Research no-kill shelters online to find an appropriate rescue organization that can try to place your pet in a new “forever home.” Contact these shelters to get more information about their procedures. And consider making a charitable donation to the shelter you have chosen.

Another interesting option is to establish a pet trust. In 2006, Pennsylvania law was changed to permit the creation of a pet trust, which allows an individual to create a trust for the benefit of an animal or animals alive during their lifetime. The trust terminates upon the animal’s death, or if several animals are involved, upon the death of the last surviving animal. Because there are tax considerations involved, the pet trust must be carefully worded and should contain funds reasonably necessary to provide for the pet, taking into consideration its needs, life expectancy and other factors.

As you can see, there are many issues to be addressed in providing for the future of pets after we’re gone. Because the laws in this area can be complex, the best course of action is to seek legal counsel. If you need help in developing a common-sense plan to provide for your pets in the event of your untimely demise, feel free to call any of the Wills, Trusts & Estates attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson.

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