According to recent estimates, 67% of U.S. households—some 85 million families—own pets. Last year, Americans spent almost $100 billion on their pets for everything from food and toys to veterinary care. When you consider these statistics and the fact that pets are often considered important members of the family, it is no surprise they are often included in the overall estate planning process.
As you are reminding your donors about taking care of those they care for in their estate plans, don’t forget to include ideas for how they can take care of their pets after their lifetimes.
From a legal standpoint, pets are considered property, so people can’t legally leave a bequest to a pet in their will or living trust. There are a few alternatives, however, to provide for the care of their pet after their lifetime.
- The pet trust
This is a trust created to provide for pets, including the funds needed to meet their needs. In it, a person can name or recommend a specific caretaker for their pet or direct their trustee to make this decision. A pet trust allows a person to include information about the care of their pet (see #3). The pet owner will need to set aside funds to pay for the costs of the trust and the care of their pet. They can provide the funds now or in their will or living trust. Though pet trusts are more costly to set up, they provide more protection. It is best to consult an attorney, as exact details vary by state.
- A less costly alternative–the Pet Protection Agreement
This is a legally enforceable agreement between two individuals or entities (the pet parent and the pet guardian). With a Pet Protection Agreement, a person can make a gift to their pet’s caretaker on the condition that they care for the pet. If this is not done, the funds must be returned to the person’s estate or sent elsewhere as directed in their estate plan. An animal rescue or animal welfare group may also be able to accept responsibility for finding a good home for the pet, particularly if the costs to do so are provided. These agreements are valid in all states.
- Put it in writing
Regardless of which avenue is chosen, it’s important to document how the pet should be cared for. What do they like to eat? What are their sleeping and play habits? Identify food brands, treats and toys they prefer. What types of medications do they need? Who is their groomer? What veterinary practice do you use? These instructions can be specified in a person’s will or living trust, to be used by the pet’s caregiver in the future.
- Leave the leftovers to charity
If a person sets aside funds to care for their pet in a formal trust or through their will, they can name a charity to receive anything remaining after their pet’s lifetime. Reminding your donors your organization is happy to be last in line may just result in a future bequest.
By Ashley McHugh, Sharpe Group Content Director
For more information about pet ownership and your donors, read “Providing for Pets in Estate Plans.”
Caring for Our Four-Legged Loved Ones
Pets are very dear to us and have a special place in our hearts, so it is important to make sure they are provided for as part of our estate plans. Your donors may feel the same way but may be uncertain how to ensure continued care for their pets.
Use Sharpe Group’s “Caring for Our Four-Legged Loved Ones” brochure to educate donors on how their estate plans can be structured to support their animals and, eventually, your mission. You can add your overall branding to this printed piece with your choice of image and accent colors and the ability to use a four-color logo.
Click here to learn more about ordering personalized brochures.
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