How can I include my pet in my estate planning?

Pet owners will want to include their animals in their estate planning. A pet trust may be an effective way to ensure a pet’s needs are taken care of.

When people become involved in their estate planning, they often focus on the future needs of their children, grandchildren and other relatives. It can be easy to overlook the needs of a pet that is left behind after the death of the pet "parent." This is not necessarily an irresponsible oversight; many pet owners in Texas and elsewhere may assume that the needs of a pet will automatically be taken care of by their surviving family members.

However, the needs of one's beloved animals may not be handled in the way that one would hope. Other relatives might not have the time, room or money to take care of a dog or cat that is left behind. It is possible that the surviving family members do not know how to take care of a pet, or perhaps they simply do not like animals and would not appreciate having the responsibility. For any number of reasons, it can be crucial for pet owners to discuss the needs of their furry family members with their flesh-and-blood family while doing the estate planning.

Including pets in a will

Can one write a pet into a will? This can be as simple as stating a pet should go to a child or grandchild during the creation of the will, after making sure this is fine by the beneficiary in question. For example, Grandmother can state in her will that she wishes her four cats and two dogs to go to her youngest child Elise, who loves animals.

However, Grandmother's will may be too vague for Elise to know how to properly care for the pets. Also, she may be overwhelmed by the idea of suddenly having the responsibility for so many animals, and could change her mind. According to Bankrate, pets are considered property, not family members. By not being specific about their needs during estate planning, a situation could arise that Grandmother would never have wanted.

Planning for a pet's specific needs with a pet trust

Millions of dogs and cats are put to sleep each year due to improper or nonexistent estate planning. Some are separated to different homes or may be abandoned by those who do not want the responsibility. Instead of planning for pets in a general will, it may be a better idea to create a pet trust. According to the Texas Bar Journal, pet trusts can be effective ways for pet owners to create specific details and instructions on the care of their animals.

With a pet trust, Grandma can designate Elise as her first choice, and name additional choices to take over the care of her pets if Elise is unable. She can include the brands of food that her animals like to eat, as well as provide instructions on their preferred veterinarian, any medications or medical conditions they have and also the toys they like to play with. If her dogs go on walks twice a day, Grandma can also include this instruction in her pet trust.

The funds that are deposited in a pet trust are distributed to the beneficiary to be used specifically for the pet's care, whereas in a will, beneficiaries may use funds left to them as they please.

Properly executed estate planning ensures that all members of the family are considered, including the furry ones. It may be wise to speak with an experienced Houston estate planning attorney on the matters of wills and trusts.