If you own a pet, you probably consider your pet to be part of the family. Sadly, about 500,000 pets end up in shelters every year because their owner died and failed to make plans for them. To prevent that from happening to your beloved family pet, make sure you include him/her in your estate plans. To get you started, a Minot pet planning attorney at German Law Group explains why your pet needs to be included in your estate plan.
Americans and Our Love of Animals
In the United States, we have a unique love affair with animals. So much so that we have twice as many dogs as pets as the next closest country (Brazil) and almost 50 percent more cats as the next closest country (China). Consider the following facts and figures released by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- Americans own 70-80 million dogs
- Americans own 75-95 million cats
- Americans own 4 million birds and 2 million horses
- 36.5 percent of all households own a dog
- 30 percent of all households own a cat
- 9 out of 10 Americans consider their pet to be part of the family
Our love of pets doesn’t stop with simply making them part of the family. We also spend a staggering amount of money on our pets as the following statistics illustrate:
- Each year, Americans spend $50 billion on their pets
- 1 in 3 Americans admits to giving their dog a birthday present
- 1 in 4 has paid for professional photographs of their furry family member
Ways to Include Your Pet in Your Estate Plan
- Verbal agreement – people frequently make the mistake of relying on nothing more than a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for their pet in the event of their death or disability. There are numerous problems with this option. First, your intended caregiver could be unable or unwilling to fulfill the agreement when the time comes and there is no legal way to enforce the agreement. Second, although you may not view your pet as your property, the law does, and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership. Finally, a verbal agreement does not provide a funding method for the continued care and maintenance of your pet.
- Gifting in a Last Will and Testament – using a Will to “gift” your pet to a designated caregiver does resolve the issue of the legal transfer of ownership; however, it does not solve all of the issues found in a verbal agreement. It does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You can also gift funds that are intended to be used to care for your pet; however, once gifted in a Will, the funds become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases. In addition, gifting a pet in a Will does not address the possibility of your incapacity because the terms of a Will only become relevant upon your death.
- Pet trust – a pet trust resolves all the issues found in the other options. A pet trust operates just like any other trust, requiring you to name a Trustee to oversee the administration of the trust and allowing you to transfer “property” into the trust. The funds you use to fund the trust can be used to care for your pet according to your wishes which can be expressed in the terms of the trust. Unlike a Will, a trust can cover the possibility of your incapacity as well as your death. Most importantly, using a trust means that everything is legally enforceable.
Contact a Pet Planning Attorney
Please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about including your pet in your estate plan, contact a pet planning attorney at German Law Group by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.