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Remember Your Pets When Estate Planning

Remember Your Pets When Estate Planning

You’ve just completed your estate plan and feel satisfied with your results when you feel something on your leg. You look down and see your dog resting its paw on your leg, wanting to go for a walk. That gets you thinking: what will happen to my pet when I am gone?

During the estate planning process, most people focus on how their assets will be allocated and to whom. Business owners should concentrate on not only estate planning but also on their exit strategy and how the business will operate when they are gone.

With all the moving parts of creating an estate plan, many times pets can be overlooked. Most pet owners think of their pets as children and, in many cases, treat them as such. But often they are not included in estate planning. Here are some common ways pets are included in estate plans.

Care of Your Pet

If you go on a vacation without your pet, you arrange to have someone watch them while you’re gone, send them to stay with someone, or board them in a kennel or similar business, a “pet hotel” so to speak. This preparation also needs to be done when thinking about your pets for when you are deceased.

When thinking of who to gift your pet to upon your permanent departure, here are some questions to ask:

Is there a family member(s) or friend you trust that your pet gets along with?

Talk to that person about the possibility of your pet(s) staying with them permanently when the time comes. Ask them questions to understand if they would be willing to accept the pet(s) and are in a position to do so. It is a good idea to have an alternate person in the event your primary choice cannot fulfill the responsibilities of caring for your pet.

Should I leave money to help care for the pet?

Pets can be expensive to care for, with food and veterinary appointments being a majority of the costs. You may find a suitable person to care for your pet, but they may be in a financial position that would make it difficult for them to absorb this responsibility. As part of your estate planning, look to allocate assets to the person responsible so they are able to properly care for the pet moving forward. Money cannot be left for pets directly, so it would need to go to the person caring for them.

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Should You Use a Will or Trust When Planning for Your Pet’s Care After You’re Gone?

In general, there are two ways you can leave instructions for your pet’s care when you are gone: a will or a pet trust.


With a will, you leave instructions stating who will take responsibility for your pet and any money you are leaving that person to use in the care of the pet.

This is the simplest and least expensive way to include instructions for your pet’s care in your estate plan. Again, when stating your primary choice for who is going to care for your pet, make sure to include an alternate choice to make sure your pet is taken care of. The money designated in the will is for the care of the pet but there are no legal repercussions if the money is used differently by the caretaker.

Pet Trust

Using a pet trust is a bit more complicated and can be expensive but it provides more assurance that your pet will be cared for as you designate.

With a trust, there is more accountability regarding the care your pet receives and for how any money designated for the care of the pet is spent. You can list specific instructions that need to be followed and designate a person to enforce the terms of the trust. Essentially, the trust creates a legal obligation for the caretaker to adhere to after ownership of your pet passes to them.

If you have confidence in the person/people you have in mind for taking care of your pets, then creating a trust may be unnecessary.

Don’t Forget About All of Your Family Members

If you already have your estate plan in order and you are a pet owner, take the time to review your plan to ensure you have taken the steps to see that your pets are taken care of when you are no longer able to provide them care yourself.

To learn more about how to include your pets in your estate plan, contact one of our professionals and they will gladly provide you with the information you need.

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Biz Tip Topic Expert: Richard Kollauf - JD, CPA, CFP, AEP

Richard Kollauf - JD, CPA, CFP, AEP

Richard is a Principal for SVA Certified Public Accountants and has more than 35 years of experience working in financial, accounting, and legal operations. Richard’s expertise in the multi-faceted financial environment includes business succession planning, tax, investments, finance, mergers and acquisitions, estate planning, and trust administration. He also has experience in estate planning and distribution for complex operational and investment multi-state businesses. Richard provides income tax consulting services to closely-held and family-owned businesses, as well as high net worth individuals.

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