Did you know that 68% of households in America have a pet? That’s around eighty-five million families. And this number has increased since the first time the survey, conducted by the Insurance Information Institute, was done in 1988. The first insurance policy for a pet actually was sold just six years prior. The dog from the movie Lassie was the first pet to be insured, as it needed to be in perfect health to be in the film.
We love our pets, and we want to make sure that we provide for them in every possible way. Even if they can be a little annoying sometimes (this is mainly directed towards cats), they are still adorable and deserve the world. In this post, we’ll talk about how you can use your estate plan to protect your pets.
First, You Can’t Leave Them Property
Under the law, pets are (*gasp*) considered property. They are not given the same legal status as people, despite how amicably we may feel towards our furry, feathered, or scaly friends. You cannot leave your pet money or property. However, you can use your estate plan to ensure that your pet is taken care of after you die.
It is a “Just in Case” Thing
Sadly, humans outlive pets. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include your pet in your estate plan. Something could happen unexpectedly that would leave your pet without an owner. Here are two ways that you can make sure your pet is taken care of in your estate plan.
1. Make Sure Your Pet Goes to a Good Home
If you have a family who lives with you, your pet can just go to them. But what if you live alone? Or what if you are the pet’s primary caretaker and your spouse or roommate just isn’t that into the pet? In that case, you should select a replacement owner for your pet in the event that something happens to you.
Make sure the new owner is someone who understands your pet’s needs. If your pet has unique health issues, include instructions for caring for them. Choose someone who is stable and home enough to give your pet the attention he or she needs. Your pet will undoubtedly miss you, so you’ll want to make sure you pick someone who will help your pet through the grieving process.
2. Give Resources to the New Owner
The new owner shouldn’t have to foot the bill alone. Vet care can be expensive, even if it is just a routine checkup and appointment. You can set up a trust or a gift to the new owner that will convey them money under the condition that they use it for care of the pet. Conditional trusts are usually valid unless they are contrary to public policy (i.e. they are wildly out of the bounds of social permissibility). An example of something that would not be allowed would be a restraint on marriage. Check with your estate planner to ensure your conditional gift is permitted. If it’s money used for a specific purpose attached to the conveyance of the pet, that should be valid.
A Quick Anecdote from History
This article has been somewhat of a bummer, so we will leave you with a short, oddball story from the annals of history.
Leona Hemsley, a real estate mogul who owned hotels all across the world, had a dog named Trouble. When she died, she left trouble $12 million, making him the richest dog in the world for a brief period of time. Trouble passed away at the ripe old age of twelve (84 in dog years), but not before becoming the brief recipient of $12 million. The gift was challenged almost immediately by Hemsley’s relatives, and a judge nullified the gift, unfortunately for trouble. But, rest assured that a dog was a millionaire for at least a brief time.
While you can’t leave your dog (or cat) a bunch of money like Leona Hemsley, you can ensure that they are taken care of it in the future. Include your pets in your estate plan to make sure they’re provided for if something happens to you.