Estate-planning for pets: Looking out for your furry family members

Iowa Family Law Dickinson Law Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 04/29/2015 at 11:18 AM by The Newsroom

Americans love their pets. According to 2012 estimates, 62% of households have at least one pet; and Americans spent more than $50 billion on pets that year. Still, many people don't plan for the care of their dog or cat in the event that their pet should outlive them, or should they become incapable of caring for their pets. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of pets go to shelters every year.

Is pet estate-planning expensive?

When we think of pet estate-planning, the high-profile cases may come to mind, such as Leona Helmsley leaving millions to her dog. But no, estate plans for pets need not conjure images of diamond collars and caviar served in golden food bowls. In fact, if you leave too much money to your pet, the gift will likely be contested and cut down. Instead, owners can take practical steps to ensure their beloved animal will go to a good home and ease any financial burden on that caretaker.

What are some options?

Step One: Find a committed caregiver and a backup. Many people assume that a family member would take their pets if something happened to them, but it is better to have the conversation and get something in writing. Step Two: Provide directions. Consider what you would do if you were going on vacation and a friend were coming to look after Fifi. What would he need to know? You would likely give him some information about how much food Fifi eats and when, whether she has health problems or takes medications, where she sleeps at night, and how many walks she usually gets. Just as you'd like Fifi to keep up her routine and standard of living if you go out of town, you probably want the same for her if you can no longer care for her. Step Three: Solidify Plans. Other than just having an understanding with someone, it is smart to use a will or trust. But a simple will provision saying that you leave Morris to your sister may still be insufficient. Your sister is not legally bound to keep Morris and care for him. So if you use a will, it is best to provide a backup caretaker and to provide some money to the caretaker sufficient for your cat's care (remember that pets often become more expensive as they age). The will should specifically state that the money should be used for the care of your pet. Yet even this plan is not 100% solid. If you want a legally enforceable arrangement with checks and balances, a trust is a great option. You can fund the trust with an amount sufficient to care for your pet and appoint a trustee and caregiver. Ideally, the trustee and caregiver should be different people, so that the trustee can check on whether the funds are being used for care of the pet. This arrangement ties the funds to the pet. Iowa specifically recognizes that trusts for pets are valid. Section 633A.2105 of the Iowa Code provides that the trust will terminate after the earlier of 21 years or when no living animal is covered by its terms. These are a few ideas to consider for your pets. And considering options is a valuable step-one that many people never make. Whichever method you decide, having a plan in place is far safer for your pet than none at all.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice.  Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.


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