Out with your dog: Estate planning is important for your pets, too
Editor’s note: “Out with your dog” is a monthly pet-friendly column, in which Free Press writer Caitlin Row discusses the many facets of loving and caring for family pets. A variety of topics (one each month) will be explored — from pet-friendly hotels to pet estate planning, and everything in between. Have a topic you’d like discussed? Want to weigh in? Email email@example.com.
Estate planning — it’s not just important for your human kids. All little forethought and organization can mean the difference between long-term, stable care for your animal friends and potential neglect if you suddenly die.
According to Roice-Hurst Humane Society Shelter Manager Judy Bowes, every year she sees dozens of instances where dogs and cats must be relinquished to the shelter because owners are either too sick to care for their pets or die without plans in place.
“And we’re only one of the shelters in town,” she said.
That’s why, at the very least, it’s important to establish viable, back-up guardians (outside your partner) for your pets as soon as you adopt them.
“We’re currently owned by four dogs — a 12-year-old Boston terrier, and the other three are (young) pugs,” Fruita resident Carla Griffin said. “If my husband and I were to be killed together, we want to make sure our animals are taken care of.”
The Griffins also have a 16-year-old horse, who could live well into its 30s.
Griffin said she’s currently in the process of legally establishing a plan for her animals through a will and possibly a trust.
“We have one child who loves our animals as much as we do,” she noted. “We’d like our daughter to be able to take possession of the animals and have money to use strictly for their care.”
Funding a pet’s health costs is another important part of creating an emergency care plan.
“It’s very important because as pets get older, just like people, their health costs and vet bills go up as well,” Bowes said. “If you have planned on leaving a pet with a relative or a friend, that could be a real financial burden.”
Establishing a funding source for your pet(s) could also be used to create a protective, back-up plan in the off-chance your chosen guardian is unable to take on the pets as agreed.
For instance, if Griffin’s daughter is not able to care for the dogs, the pooches will automatically be given to a specified animal rescue with the funds set aside for their care “to defray costs.”
The horse would likely go to a niece or a specified horse sanctuary, she added.
“I want them well taken care of,” Griffin said. “We want to make sure the animals are not destroyed because we do look at animals as a responsibility and as family members. Having a will is extremely important.”
According Bruce Phillips, a Grand Junction attorney at Elder and Phillips, many people do include provisions in their wills for family pets, such as who will care for the animal and how much money should be left for their care.
“Money is usually a part of that,” Phillips confirmed.
A trust for one’s pet is also allowed under Colorado’s probate code.
There are a few benefits of having a trust for one’s pet, rather than simply establishing care in a will.
A trust would both designate a caretaker for the pet and an overseer of the trust — someone that makes sure the person named actually takes care of pet, Phillips said.
A sum of money would also be placed in the trust, with a provision that allows for distribution of the money at the time of the pet’s death. This could be to the caregiver or a related charity. A trust would also establish funding support for additional pet guardians, if the primary guardian died or didn’t work out.
Because creating a trust is so formal, Phillips noted that in his experience more people “opt to give a sum of money to a trusted friend who has agreed to take care of the pet” in the form of a will, rather than a trust.
Phillips also suggests designating funds in one’s will to organizations that “support pets you’re passionate about.”
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