By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
May 24, 2018
Does Your Goldfish Need an Estate Plan?
Most pet owners don’t think of their furry (or not so furry) roommates as pieces of property. They’re friends. Loved ones. Members of the family.
However, legally speaking, property is exactly what they are, like cars or houses. You own them. You are responsible for them. And if you pass away without formally letting your wishes be known, they could be left without a home if no one steps up and offers to care for them.
Because of this, you should absolutely include pets in your estate plan. How exactly do you do this? There are a number of important questions to consider.
Who Do You Want to Take Care of Your Pet?
It may seem simple to designate someone to take your pet after you pass, but don’t short-change the process. You want to make sure the person you choose is responsible. They should also be good with animals, specifically the type of animal you have. Ideally, you probably want someone who knows your pet and already has a relationship with them. And it’s also important to confirm that they will actually do it.
This means sitting down and having a conversation with the individual you want. You will not only be able to confirm their interest and willingness to take your pet, but also get a better sense of their ability to be a good owner. And if they don’t want to do it, you’ll know right away, so you can choose someone else.
Don’t have any friends or relatives you can turn to? It is often possible to reach out to a charitable or rescue organization that can help. A knowledgeable Florida estate planning attorney can provide you with options and connect you to the right people.
How Much Money Will It Take to Provide for Your Pet?
There are many factors involved in this question. How long is your pet anticipated to live? How is their health? What kind of animal do you have? Are there ailments this type of pet commonly suffers from later in life?
Generally speaking, the recommended formula is to determine how much you spend on an annual basis, multiply that by the number of years you expect your pet to live after you pass, then add a set sum for estimated medical costs.
For example, say you have a 5-year-old cat. On average, their breed tends to live to about 15 years old. You spend $1,000/year. So, take that $1,000 and multiply it by 10 years. You would want to leave $10,000 for your cat’s care.
Of course, those are for general, basic, estimated expenses. There are ways to be more specific and make sure your pet is completely covered no matter what happens. We’ll cover that in a minute.
What Legal Tools Are Required to Solidify Your Wishes?
You have a couple of options here, and it really depends on how specific and comprehensive you want to be in terms of caring for your pet after you’re gone.
If you just want to provide for basic expenses, like those estimated above, all you really need is a will. You can write into the will who your pet should be devised to when you die and list a specific amount you’re providing for the entirety of your pet’s remaining life.
However, if you feel like you need to offer more specific, comprehensive care, you will want to create a pet trust. You don’t need to be Leona Helmsley to do it either.
- Naming the caregiver
- Naming the person who will assume responsibility for your pet (this may be the caregiver)
- Detailing instructions that the caregiver needs to follow regarding your pet
- Setting aside funds in the trust to cover all ongoing expenses in the same manner described above
- Naming the trustee (this is the person who will make sure the funds from the trust are dispensed appropriately)
Again, an experienced Florida estate planning attorney is the best person to talk to about how to fit your pets into your estate plan, so you can ensure they get the proper care they need after you pass.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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