Estate Planning: Pets in the Eyes of the Law

March 14, 2020 in Uncategorized | MARTIN WREN, P.C. | LEAVE A COMMENT

Do you know who is going to take care of Fido and Fifi after you are gone? Do you have a backup plan for them just in case something tragic happens to you? While nobody wants to picture a terrible event occurring, it is something we have to accept as mortal beings. In today’s society, most of us view our pets as family members. So one of the biggest ways that we can plan ahead for our furry family members is by including them in our estate plan and the help of an estate planning lawyer.

Pets in the Eyes of the Law

While in our hearts we may feel like our fur babies are actually our children, the law sees things differently. From a legal standpoint, pets are considered personal property, categorized alongside other items like your furniture or vehicles. Unless proper plans have been made ahead of time, when parents pass away, where these fur babies end up will be in question.

Choosing a Caretaker

The first thing you should think about is who should care for Fido and Fifi if something were to happen to you. This person should be someone you trust to provide food, shelter, and medical care if needed. This could be your spouse, children (if they are of legal age), a close friend, or other relatives. Be sure to talk about your wishes with the caretaker you choose, so they can agree to take responsibility for your pet if that situation were to arise.

If nobody comes to mind, then consider a humane organization that you trust to find them a new home. Do keep in mind that there is a difference between an SPCA and humane society, versus a county shelter. County shelters in particular are responsible for any and all homeless animals in your county. This means they may have to euthanize based on time and space if they get full of too many animals. Be sure to speak openly with the organization you choose and ask about their policies, so you can feel more comfortable with your choice.

Putting Your Preferences in Writing

Once you have figured out who you want to take care of your pets, you will have to put your post-mortem wishes in official writing through creating a will, Pet Trust, or memorandum. Consider speaking with your attorney for advice on which best suites yours needs: 

  • A Will: you can write a clause in your will that describes who you want to leave your pet to. You may want to appoint a secondary guardian in case the first is unable to or changes their mind. 
  • Memorandum: some states permit people to write a binding letter that describes their wishes for their pet. Memorandums can be a good option for people who need something official written quickly, because they are undergoing surgery or going on a lengthy trip and want to take precautions.
  • Pet Trust: this is a more complex legal document that sets aside money for your pet’s care. In the Pet Trust, your pet will be identified by name, assigned a caretaker, and appointed a trustee to manage the funds in this trust.


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