Almost every pet owner will tell you that they consider their pet to be a member of their
family, so shouldn’t those beloved furry friends be part of your Estate Planning conversation? We think yes.
While the legalities of pet guardianship are often debated, there are several options to choose from to help ease the pain that comes when a loved one passes, specifically, if that person is a pet parent.
What Happens to Your Pet After You Die? Pet Guardianship vs Pet Ownership Pet Guardian Rights: What Are My Options? Will or Power Of Attorney Pet Trust Charitable Organization
What Happens to Your Pet After You Die?
There are various circumstances that will affect your pet after your passing. Most importantly, did you create a direct plan in advance specifically regarding your pet’s well-being?
While most assume they will outlive their pet — as animal life spans are usually shorter than human ones — there are unexpected situations that can prevent this desired outcome. This leads to wondering: “can I address my pet in my Will?” “do pets have legal rights?” and “are there multiple options available to choose from?” The short answers: “yes”, “some”, and “yes” respectively, read on as we address them.
Pet Guardianship vs Pet Ownership
If you’ve ever wondered “What is the difference between a pet guardian and owner?” you’re not alone. This is a widely discussed topic among pet lovers, animal rights activists and public policy-makers alike; and the logistics can be confusing. So let’s start by simply breaking down the words “ownership” and “guardianship”.
The term ownership refers to the possession of property; primarily, inanimate or material goods. Guardianship is defined as “the position of protecting or defending something” or, in this, “the position of being legally responsible for the care of someone who is unable to manage their own affairs.”
Under current law, guardianship is reserved for people and ownership is reserved for animals. This means that your pet would be categorized the same as your car or TV in the event you pass away unexpectedly or without a plan in place.
Pet Guardian Rights: What Are My Options?
The following are several paths you can take to guarantee your pet’s comfort and happiness:
Will or Power Of Attorney: One of the simplest ways to ensure the long-term well-being of your pet is to address them in your Will while appointing a reliable caregiver (typically a friend or family member) and leaving them a sum of money dedicated to caring for your pet — although leaving them money is not required. Note that your chosen caregiver will not technically have a legal obligation to care for your furry friend, even if it is explicitly stated in your Will. However, electing a trustworthy individual and giving them advanced notice should be enough to secure your pet’s safety and happiness.
Electing a Power of Attorney is another viable option when it comes to caring for your pet after your passing. Opting for a Power of Attorney means you are authorizing another person to handle all of your affairs, including making arrangements for your pet, in the event you become incapacitated.
Pet Trust: Creating a pet trust is another great Estate Planning tool and similar to including your pet in your Will or living trust. The biggest difference, however, is that whomever you choose to act as your pet’s guardian will have a legal obligation to follow through with the agreement. Pet trusts work like this: you appoint a trustee, create a written document of instructions on how exactly to care for your pet and leave the trustee however much money you believe it will cost to support your pet for the remainder of its life.
There is one legal caveat to keep in mind if you decide to utilize a pet trust: in the event you leave your trustee more money than necessary to care for your pet, the trustee has the option to give the remaining funds to alternate beneficiaries listed in your Will.
Charitable Organization: In the event you’re unable to find a suitable person to care for your pet after your death or incapacitation, a charitable organization may be able to provide you some comfort. Several programs were created to help find appropriate homes for pets whose owners passed away without defining specific arrangements in their Wills or the entire absence of a Will.
Providing for your pets in a Will and updating your Will regularly is the very first step, and it’s an important one. But more importantly, you should register your updated Will and store it in a safe place. liteWill lets you register your Will and store an electronic copy of your Will. Otherwise, all the good work that you have done becomes irrelevant if your person of confidence is not able to find your Will in a timely manner. ‘A Will that is not registered is like a Will that does not exist’.
This portion of the website is for information only. The statements and opinions are the expression of their author, not of liteWill, and have not been evaluated for accuracy, completeness or changes in the law. Information contained in this article is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.
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