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Estate Planning for Pets Isn’t Just for Celebrities

Weber Law Feb. 4, 2019

When celebrities die, their estate planning steps into the spotlight. When Aretha Franklin died last year, the fact that she died without a will made headlines around the world. Likewise, the recent death of fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld has generated a flurry of news stories speculating about the likely beneficiary of his estate – his beloved cat, Choupette.

Reading news stories about the beautiful Birman cat who has her own staff of maids and cooks and eats freshly prepared gourmet meals at the table on designer dinnerware might lead you to believe that only the rich and famous provide for their pets in their estate plans. However, we would encourage you to reexamine that belief and instead focus on how pets have become integral parts of the American family. Pets are living beings, and they require daily attention from their owners in the form of feeding, etc. This is why you must put legal mechanisms in place that will give your family or friends access to your pets immediately upon the event of your death as well as the resources that they will need to care for them.

It is unclear which estate planning mechanisms Karl Lagerfeld used to provide for his cat, and it is likely that they differ from the options that are available to us here in the United States. State laws vary as to how pet owners can provide for their furry family members in their estate plans, and your estate planning attorney can help determine what the best options are for you. Many pet owners can provide for guardianship of their pets as well as pass on resources to the person or people who will care for the pets through the most fundamental document in their estate plan, the will. Many states’ laws consider pets personal property and allow pet owners to bequeath them to others in their will. It may be wise to look beyond a simple bequest in your will to ensure that your pets’ needs are adequately provided for. All wills go through a process called probate, which that means that some time will pass after your death before its provisions become effective. Your estate planning attorney can help you plan for the immediate and continued care of your pet if you become incapacitated or die.

Pet trusts are the second type of estate planning tool that you may be able to use to provide for any pets that survive you. People can write pet trusts so that they take effect upon the event of your death or disability. Pet trusts can contain provisions for guardianship, veterinary care,  and financial resource management as well as schedules and routines for feeding, exercise, and the like.

If you’re ready to begin estate planning or update your estate plan to include your pets, discuss your estate planning questions with Wichita attorney J. Joseph Weber today. Please call our office or contact us through our website.