For many of us, pets are just as much a part of the family as our children, so when we start the estate planning process, it makes sense that they will be included in some capacity. When we pass, we want to make sure that our pets will be well taken care of, and thankfully, there are a couple of ways to ensure that. With your estate attorney, you can discuss the options of a last will, trust, or non-legal agreement to include your pet in. 

You Can Write Your Pet Into Your Last Will 

Firstly, you can not leave money or assets to your pets in any capacity. Writing your pet into your last will means leaving instructions for a beneficiary to take over ownership of the animal. If you choose, you can specify who your pet will be handed over to, giving them full ownership of them. Additionally, you can include money in the request; for example, you can leave the beneficiary $1,000 in the hopes that it will be used for the animal’s food, vet bills, and entertainment. Unfortunately, they will have no legal obligation to use the money on the pet. Once the animal and money are passed onto them, they can choose what happens to both. 

With how long a probate process could last, there is no telling how long your pet might not have designated care if someone does not volunteer to help. If you want to try to bypass the time between your passing and probate court, you can write a separate letter detailing your wishes outlined in your will. While it’s not legally binding, it can act as instructions on what to do next.

You Can Also Choose to Use a Pet Trust 

While a last will can outline exactly what you want, it does not guarantee it will happen. If you want your pet to go to someone specific, be treated a certain way, eat a particular food, or be funded by the money you supply, it could be best to choose a trust instead. With a trust, you will have more control over how the funds are used and where your pet goes. Additionally, you can choose a trustee outside of the caretaker you picked to enforce your wishes and ensure everything is done accordingly. Choosing a trust creates a legal obligation for the caretaker to care for your pet in the exact terms you have outlined. 

Fortunately, a trust will bypass probate as well, so when you pass, these terms will be immediate, and you know your pet will be taken care of. However, writing out a pet trust can be an expensive process and takes much more time to plan and structure appropriately. If you choose a trust, it could be wise to contact an estate attorney to write it with you.

Or, A Non-Legal Agreement

Of course, there is also the non-legal agreement where you have undeniable trust in your chosen caretaker, knowing they will care for the animal once you are gone. If you and the other party are both in agreement and understand what the terms are, you might not have to go through writing it out in your estate plan. However, remember that this has no legal standing, so if you truly want to be sure, it could be best to get the agreement down on paper.

A pet being written into an estate plan is more common than you think. If you have further questions or wish to write up your own, contact the team at Hartmann Law.