Did you know that most pets’ lives end when their owner’s life ends?
Here are two eye opening facts:
- Sixty-seven percent of Americans DO NOT have an estate plan. (April 2022 CNBC)
- Seventy-six percent of all United States households have some type of domestic pet. (American Medical Veterinary Association 2022 report)
Based on those two statistics alone, it’s safe to assume that most pet owners don’t have an estate plan in place for themselves, let alone a care plan for their pet, should their pet outlive them. Now, let’s push the above theory out further. Let’s guestimate that half of the American households with pets, also have minor children. Even if the premise of using fifty percent for pet owners with minor children is off, the facts still suggest that there is no estate plan in place. This is alarming! Why? Unfortunately, due to the absence of documented legal planning, the courts are left to decide the children’s physical and financial guardians. Consequently, where there is no plan for an individual’s estate, with confidence one can believe there is no plan for any family pet(s). As a result, most pets end up at a kill shelter or unnecessarily euthanized, as they are at the mercy of whoever shows up.
As you can see, when there is not an estate plan in place at the time of death, the result impacts a multitude of potentially life altering issues! While the solution appears straight-forward, encourage more people to make a plan, it’s easier said than done! The key to increased planning is to begin talking about this genuine problem, that most don’t even realize exists…. until it happens.
If your estate planning attorney has not talked about pet care as a component of your plan, ask them. As a pet parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure that there is a plan in place to care for the loyal companions who gave you unconditional love. One can’t assume that our children, relatives, friends, or neighbors will care for our pets. If you are fortunate enough to have the peace of mind that they will care for your pet, recognize that there is an expense that goes along with it. Associated costs with pet care include but are not limited to annual vet clinic wellness check-ups, vaccinations, pet sitters, grooming, food and even their end-of-life expenses. As pets age their health may become compromised. Special diets or medications could be required. When their quality-of-life ends, and they die either naturally or a humane euthanasia takes place, there will be a cost for pet cremation or burial.
There are two ways to make sure your pet is properly cared for should you die first.
Here are two types of formal agreements to protect your pet:
- Pet Trusts
- Pet Protections Agreements
A pet trust is a binding legal document for the ongoing care of a person’s pet in the event of their death or even a disability where the owner becomes unable to care for the pet. Pet trusts enable the pet parent to be as specific as they wish regarding the care of their pet, right down to the type of kitty litter used or food purchased. Pet Trusts are funded. Funding means ensuring the financial means for your pet’s care. Providing the financial means for your pet trust can be accomplished through a few different methods: life insurance, bank accounts, or investment portfolios.
Pet Protection Agreements are legally enforceable written agreements between two or more individuals. It provides instructions regarding the pet’s care. Most pet protection agreement urges the pet owner to name a shelter, sanctuary or rescue group will take care of the pet upon the owner’s disability or death as a backup plan if the named individual is unable to fulfill that role. Funding is encouraged but not required.
The major difference between a pet protection agreement and a pet trust is that an attorney’s involvement is not necessary in a pet protection agreement. You can write your own. Once completed, the pet owner and the designated guardian must have it signed and notarized.
Recently I had a wonderful conversation with Jodi Jarvis-Therrian from Dogs Blessed about making a provision for your pets, in your estate plan. It was a great conversation. In this discussion, the Animal Care Trust USA (ACT) is referenced. Animal Care Trust USA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping Loved Pets in loving homes. Their services are both easy to understand, available online, and affordable.
Animal Care Trust has:
- Pet Trusts – which are valid in all 50 states and the District of Columbia
- Three levels of pet trust options to choose from, including a customizable option.
- Pet Protection Plan™
In my book “It’s Complicated! “ (What you should know about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, End-of-Life Planning and More) there is one chapter dedicated to this topic. Finally, in closing if you are a pet owner, please think of pet planning this way. If there is no pet and you had left a pet plan just in case your pet outlives you—what’s the harm? The funds are simply reallocated with the rest of your estate’s wishes unless you specified differently! It’s still a win -win.