Did you know that many of the dogs and cats in animal shelters and many others horses, rabbits, and other animals that are currently in the care of rescue organizations are in their current predicaments because their owners passed away? Not only are these animals mourning the loss of the person or people who loved them and cared for them, but they are also experiencing the feeling of living in a place that is not intended to be a permanent home. Fortunately, if you have pets, you can take steps to ensure that they will receive continuous, loving care if you happen to leave this earth before they do.
Including your pets in your estate plan is the best way to ensure that they will be provided for both physically and emotionally after you pass away. It is essential that you work with an estate planning attorney throughout the estate planning process, and it is just as important to ask your attorney to help you create the estate planning documents that will provide the care and resources that your pets would need in your absence. Your attorney can help you use estate planning tools to give the caregiver or caregivers who would be assuming responsibility for your pets immediate access to the pets and the resources that they would need to care for them. This is critical because pets are living beings and need daily care and feeding.
Some estate planning tools are better suited for providing for pets than others are. For example, since the law views pets as property, they can be bequeathed to someone in your will. However, bequeathing pets in a will is not a viable option for pet owners. The provisions of a will do not become effective until the will goes through probate. That could mean that it could be months or even years, before items that bequeathed in a will, including animals, get into the hands of their new owners. Your pets will need immediate attention if you pass away, so your estate planning strategy must address the urgency of their needs.
One possible estate planning tool that you might use to protect your pets in the event of your death is a Pet Protection Agreement. That document lets you identify a guardian for your pets and make any other necessary provisions for their care. Before you run out and get a Pet Protection Agreement drawn up, be sure to ask your estate planning attorney whether a pet protection agreement will work well for you and your pets or if another estate planning tool, like a pet trust, would be better. Also, before you list someone as a guardian in your Pet Protection Agreement, pet trust, or any other estate planning document, make sure that they are willing and able to welcome your animals into their lives. Consider whether all of your pets should go with the same person or family, or if selecting different guardians for each of them would better meet their needs. It is also a good idea to choose one or more alternate guardians, so your pets won’t be left in limbo if the original guardian can’t fulfill their role at the time of your death.
To learn more about estate planning, call Wichita attorney J. Joseph Weber at 316-265-7802. or contact us on our website. We have appointments available from Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and we occasionally offer appointments in the evening or on the weekend.