Normally when we first discuss the need for clients to include their pets into their estate plan, they think we’re crazy. My wife and I, however, view this as a very serious issue. We feel that our dogs, Fenway and Roxy, are a part of our family. If we pass away while they are alive, we want to make sure they are cared for by someone who is capable and who wants to care for them.

Selecting a guardian – The first decision you need to make is finding someone to care for your pet. Not everyone who loves your pet will want the responsibility of caring for him/her on a daily basis. Some of those who may be open to caring for your pet might not be the best caretakers. Start by creating list of those people to whom you would feel comfortable leaving your pet. After you have identified your best options, talk with them to find out if they are open to the idea. It’s better to run the idea past them now than to surprise them after you’ve passed.

Caring for your pet – Next, you will want to create a care manual for your pet’s guardian. You should leave daily care instructions (what food he/she eats, the typical daily routine, etc.). If your pet has any health or personality issues, you will want to include that information as well. Your pet may require daily medication or, like Fenway, may become intimidating around people he doesn’t know. This is critical information for the guardian to know. Also, if your pet knows commands, does tricks, has favorite play areas, etc., make sure to share those details. This should help communication and make the transition easier.

Most vets will allow you to leave written permission for your pet to be cared for by others. If you have not done so already, you should discuss this with your vet and add your favorite sitter, neighbor, and potential future guardian to this list. Providing the vet and the future guardian with this information will allow for continued care and/or for the transfer of medical records.

One of the hardest issues we face with our pets is when to euthanize them. It’s such an emotional topic, that I’m not even allowed to mention the word at home. Our dogs are aging and we will likely be faced with this decision at some point in the next few years. When the time comes, my wife and I will be able to weigh the options with our vet. If someone else is caring for your pet, you may want to leave behind guidelines for circumstances in which the guardians may euthanize your pet. This will become especially important if you leave money behind to care for your pet.

Many people we’ve met have already discussed burial arrangements for their pet. Some people want their pets buried in a pet cemetery, some want their ashes spread, and others have a special location such as a favorite play area or in the same plot as the “parents.” If you have strong feelings for the final resting place for your pet, you will want to include those arrangements in your estate plan.

Covering the costs – While many people may establish both primary and contingent care takers for their pets, all too often they do not provide financial support for their pet’s care. Even if the guardians have the financial wherewithal to cover the costs of caring for a pet, it is only fair to leave some money behind for your pet’s care. Some people leave a lump sum to the guardians. Others, concerned about the guardian’s motivation to care for their pet, may decide to provide a monthly allotment or a reimbursement for care provided. Quite often this is done through a “pet trust.” Yes, they do have trusts for pets!

In a pet trust, you can establish care guidelines for your pet, disbursement options, and an executor to monitor the trust and your pet’s care. If you decide to establish a pet trust, I highly recommend that you find an attorney who has experience in drafting these trusts. The attorney will be able to discuss all of the possible scenarios with you and guide you through the process.

Your financial power of attorney – When establishing your financial power of attorney, make sure to include a provision that allows for money to be used for your pet’s care. If you are unable to handle your own finances, someone else will step in and provide money management for your care. Strict interpretation from the courts may not allow for money to be spent on your pet. By including a provision for your pet, you will ensure that your pet will be cared for should you suffer a significant injury or illness.

Provisions for care during probate – Probate is a process that can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. Because your pet is considered property and subject to probate, you will want to include a provision in your Will that allows your executor to provide care and money for your pet while your estate is in probate.

The most important piece of estate planning is getting one in place. Meet with an attorney, your financial adviser, and accountant to determine the best course of action for your estate. Review your beneficiaries on a regular basis. You will also want to update your estate plan every five to seven years or when you have a significant life change, a beneficiary passes away, or if estate/income tax laws change.

Author Profile

Woody Derricks, CFP®
Woody Derricks, CFP®
Throughout my nearly 20 years as a Financial Advisor, I have seen some of the best and worst markets in our history. That experience allows me to approach my clients with the knowledge of how the markets fit into their greater financial picture. At Partnership Wealth Management we help everyday people who have accumulated wealth make sense of what they have and work with them to maximize their financial opportunities in a relaxed, comfortable, and professional environment. While we help people from all walks of life, many of our clients are same-sex couples searching for a knowledgeable, LGBT-friendly financial advisor to help them with their unique financial planning needs. I am a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and have the Accredited Domestic Partnership Advisor(sm) designation. As a Registered Investment Advisor, we are not tied to any company’s investment products allowing us to provide unbiased advice by offering a wide array of investments and other products to our clients. Since 2001, I have been writing articles on financial planning for several regional newspapers and have been a guest speaker on LGBT financial issues for various local and national organizations. Additionally, I have conducted financial planning workshops for large corporations and government agencies. Non-Profit Work I believe that it is important to give back to the community and currently serve as the treasurer for FreeState Justice and as a co-founder/president of Paws for a Cause. I’m a current member of several LBGT, environmental, and local community groups. Personal My wife, Heidi and I enjoy camping, hiking, and traveling with our daughter, Elise, and our dogs, Fenway & Roxy. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.