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5 SIMPLE STEPS TO ESTATE PLANNING FOR YOUR PETS

Updated: May 6




STEP 1  “THE TALK”



What talk are we talking about? It's the talk about who will care for your beloved family pets if something happens and you can no longer care for them. In case you are thinking “this doesn’t apply to me because”

A.    “I’m not that old”

This applies to every pet owner, no matter what your age, because you never know what may happen. People die in accidents every day and you never know when illness or injury will cause you to be unable to care for your pets.  The risk might be low for you, but do you want to leave your pets unprotected just in case?

B.    “My Family will take care of them”

Perhaps you're thinking, "my spouse will take care of them", or "our kids will take them" and perhaps they will, but it's important to confirm that with them and then document it in your estate plan documents. Every week Perpetual Care, animal shelters, and rescues receive calls from family members trying to place pets in need of rehoming after their family member has passed away or gone into a nursing facility. These people are desperate to rehome the pets because there wasn't a plan in place for who will take their pets. In many cases we can tell that their relative was assuming they would just take in their pets.

C.    “My pets aren’t going to outlive me”

Again, accidents and illnesses can happen at any age.  Don’t leave your pets at risk when they depend on you to have a plan for them.

D.    “I don’t have anyone who will take my pets”

The number of single households in the US has increased over the years.  Roughly 13 percent of American adults live alone, research shows. 

Breaking down that figure by age groups, the population of solitaries rises from 4 percent of adults at ages 18-24 to 9 percent at 25-34, dips to 8 percent at 35-44, then rises again, to 12 percent at 45-54, 17 percent at 55-64 and 26 percent at 65 and up.  (Pew Data).  In population numbers,  there were an estimated 36.05 million single-person households in the U.S. in 2022.   So, it could be a significant concern for people in single households, who benefit from the company of a pet.  For people who cannot identify a caregiver for their pets, it’s important to have a talk with the local humane society or spca in your community to find out about their pet life care options if they have them and of course, Perpetual Care takes pets from anywhere in the U.S.  We also encourage people to always being thinking of friends who love your pets or perhaps a reciprocal agreement between you and a fellow pet lover to take each other’s pets if it becomes necessary.

The end of the year can be a good time to have "The Talk" with your family or friends often because you are already gathering together for the holidays, but just have the talk whatever time of year it is.  Having the discussion is important because if you just assume someone will take your pets, you are taking a big risk for your pet’s future.

We also recommend that you identify a primary caregiver and a secondary caregiver among your family and friends and document it because life circumstances change. Even if you are faithful to performing an annual review of your estate plans, it is possible that at some point in that year, your primary caregiver may be unable to follow through with taking your pets if even if they agreed to it, so a secondary caregiver provides a backup plan. 

How to document your Caregivers

Perpetual Care provides you with a Pet Life Care Agreement Template that you can modify and use to document your plans.

If you don't have someone willing or able to take your pets, contact us at Perpetual Care to set up your life care agreement with Perpetual Care.

For more information, and to request our template visit our website at www.perpetualcare.org.

 

 

 STEP 2  TAKE INVENTORY


 

Okay, so taking inventory does not sound very exciting but it should be a very enlightening and helpful step, and it’s not as difficult as you may think.  It may also help you to think about how to improve your financial situation and build a stronger and well thought out estate.

The Inventory is a list of your assets and a list of any person or organization (beneficiaries) to whom you want to leave any of your assets. Assets are simply anything that you own, whether it is property, bank accounts or investments.  Just a reminder, that in the eyes of the law, you pets are property and so they should go on you list and you should document on your inventory list who has agreed to take your pets.   

Using the example below, start with a very short simple list of anything of value that you own and any beneficiaries you are considering. 

Note that the list has a place to identify who you want to be your primary and secondary caregivers for your pets.  You may even have one person who takes one pet and a different person who takes another pet. 

Simply place an X by any of the items that you have on the left side list and on the right side place an X by any people or organizations who you want to leave any of those items to in your estate.  It will help you to put the account numbers or have a copy of a statement for any accounts with your list.

How you can use that information will be covered when we go over Wills and Trusts.

Note: The list is a jpeg file so if you are reading this on your phone, just press on it and save it to your photos.


 

STEP 3 DECIDE-WILL OR TRUST


WILL VS TRUST


Hopefully, you have taken the first 2 steps in estate planning for yourself and your pets. 

Step 1 is critical no matter who you expect to take your pets.  Have “The Talk” and ask your intended caregivers if they would be willing to take your pets. 


Step 2 is taking an inventory of all that you own and deciding who you want to get what.  In this step, it’s important to include your pets because under the law, pets are property.  Also, be sure to identify a primary caregiver and a secondary or backup caregiver.


Step 3: Now, it is time decide if you are going to have a WILL or a TRUST.


A WILL

A WILL-is a legal document that stipulates how to distribute your assets (including property, which includes your pets) upon your death.


The majority of people have a simple WILL.  Here are the usual reasons why:

·        It is quicker and easier for you and for your lawyer. 

·        The cost of a will is less than the cost of a trust.

·        You may have few assets and your family relationships are not complicated.

The Downsides of a Will as it affects your Pets:

·        A will ONLY takes effect when you pass away….that means your pets are unprotected if you go into a nursing care facility or become otherwise unable to care for them.

·        The majority of wills go into probate which can last weeks or months….in that interim, who will care for your pets?

For both of these downsides, Perpetual Care offers you a solution.  We provide pet owners with a PET LIFE CARE AGREEMENT which will protect your pets while you are still living. (See below)


GOOD NEWS-YOUR WILL CAN BE FREE!

We also have GOOD NEWS regarding the cost of a will.  Perpetual Care works with FREE WILL (www.freewill.com) , an organization that is committed to ensuring that every person has access to having a will.  They provide legal support that meets the state requirements of every state and it truly is FREE!  Visit their website at www.freewill.com to get started.


LIVING TRUST

A TRUST-  is a legal document that allows you to create a separate legal entity, the trust, and retitle assets in the name of the trust during your lifetime. You, the grantor, designate a trustee to manage those assets on your behalf. A trust takes effect immediately while you are still living.


See below for a chart that compares wills and trusts.


YOU STILL NEED A PET LIFE CARE DOCUMENT

Regardless of whether you opt for a Trust or a Will I still recommend that you include a PET LIFE CARE AGREEMENT or PET TRUST in your estate documents.  A PET TRUST is the best protection you can give your pet because it takes effect immediately and it describes in detail what you want to happen with your pets.  It also designates a trustee to oversee your wishes.  You can designate your pets’ caregivers, you can designate funds for their care and you can describe how to care for them. 


PET LIFE CARE AGREEMENT

A Pet Life Care Agreement is a simple contract between you as the pet owner and your primary and secondary caregivers.  No funds need to be designated although you can designate them as beneficiary in your will or trust as well as in the agreement.  The benefit of the Pet Life Care Agreement is that it takes effect immediately whereas your will takes effect only when you die.

PET LIFE CARE TRUST

Pet Life Care Trust is an agreement between you as the pet owner and your primary and secondary caregiver and designates funds to the care of your pets.  Again, the benefit of the Pet Life Care Trust is that it takes effect immediately.

To request a copy of these agreements, visit our website at www.perpetualcare.org/services.

 

YOUR 2 OTHER KEY DOCUMENTS

Just a reminder about the other key documents in your estate plan, which do not involve your pets, but are also important to have in your estate plan. 

·        Advance Directive- An advance directive (sometimes called a “living will” and is not the same as a living trust) is a document that outlines the kind of medical care you want if you are terminally ill. It should include identification of a healthcare representative or power of attorney for healthcare.

·        (Financial) Power of Attorney-The power of attorney for finances is a document that gives someone the authority to handle financial transactions on your behalf.  This is beneficial in case you have diminished capacity to handle your own finances.

 

Virginia Kilmer, CEO/Founder

Perpetual Care


 

Wills

Trusts

Effective Date

After Death

Immediately upon signing and funding

Protection if disabled/incapacitated

No

Yes

Avoids Probate?

No

Yes

Preserves Privacy?

No-Wills are public records

Yes

Provides Guardianship for Minor Children

Yes

No-Although a living trust usually includes a default will to cover anything not covered in the trust

Process & Costs

Simple straightforward process.  Cost anywhere from $0-1,000. Average cost can be as little as $100.

More involved, requires an attorney and can be $400-$2,500 Depending on complexity and location

Contestability

Likely to be successfully challenged.

Unlikely to be successfully challenged.

Precedence

Secondary to Trusts

Usually Takes precedence over wills

Tax Benefits

No

No-For Revocable Trusts

Yes-For Irrevocable Trusts

Protection from Creditors

                           No

No-For Revocable Trusts

Yes-For Irrevocable Trusts

 



STEP 4 DOCUMENT YOUR PLANS

Remember the basic documents you need in your estate plan:

1.     A Will

2.     Advance Directive (Also called a Living Will)

3.     Durable Financial Power of Attorney (DFPOA)

We recommend you have an additional document for your Pets

4          A Pet Life Care Agreement or Pet Life Care Trust Agreement

 

1.    Do It Yourself (DIY)?

Yes, you can do it yourself and still do it with a lawyer!  We partner with Freewill.com which is a nonprofit organization that provides free estate planning documents. Yes, they are totally free, no tricks. They provide you with the first 3 documents above; a will, advance directive and DFPOA.  Perpetual Care provides you with the additional pet care documents on our website at www.perpetualcare.org/estate-planning.

 

2.    File your plan with your lawyer

 If you work with a local attorney they will retain a copy of your estate plan documents, but there are some documents that an attorney may not keep on file and are not legally required. 

 

A pet life care agreement between you and your designated caregivers, is not legally required as part of an estate. It also may not make sense to only include it in your estate documents since that agreement can take effect prior to you actually passing away.

1.    Pet Life Care Agreement vs Pet Life Care Trust

a.     Pet Life Care Agreement: A pet life care agreement is a simple agreement between you as the pet owner with the primary and secondary caregivers who you wish to designate as the caregivers for your pets. Because a will only takes effect when you pass away, this agreement is important to protect your pets in the event that you can no longer care for them but you have not passed away. 

 

Perpetual Care provides a template of a pet life care agreement on our website at www.perpetualcare.org/estate-planning.  You can download the template and modify it for your own pets’ information.  We suggest you have your attorney review and modify it as well since laws vary by state, then sign and notarize it along with your designated caregivers.

 

b.     Pet Life Care Trust:  The pet life care trust is an agreement with your primary and secondary caregivers that includes funds reserved for the care of your pets in a trust fund.  The trust fund can be set up with your bank.  Because a will only takes effect when you pass away, this agreement is important to protect your pets in the event that you can no longer care for them but you have not passed away. 

 

 

Perpetual Care provides you with a pet life care trust agreement template that can be used to modify for your pets’ information. Visit our website at www.perpetualcare.org/estate-planning for the pet trust template.  Again, you will want to have it reviewed by your attorney, signed by all parties, notarized and included in your estate planning documents.

 

2.    Document File Storage

Store all your important documents safely for someone to find and carry out your plans.

a.     Paper files

1.     A Fire Proof Home Security Box

Keep a copy of all your important documents in a fire proof security box at home.  Include your Pet Life Care Agreement in your document storage.


1.     Safe Deposit Box

You may also want to consider storing copies of important documents in a safe deposit box.  If you do, be sure to let your emergency contact know and provide them with a key.

 

a.     Online/cloud document storage

If you and your family members or other emergency contacts are tech knowledgeable, there are some simple data storage options that allow you to share documents online with other people who you trust to carry out your wishes.  Here are a few to consider, from no cost options to paid data storage providers.

1.     Google Docs/One Drive/Box/Dropbox

Each of these shared data systems allows you to store all of your legal documents and share them with your key people (see #2 for suggested people).  They are not the most secure systems but they are free.

2.     Estate Document Storage Websites

a.     Estate Map (www.estatemap.com). Joe Henderson, a Minneapolis estate lawyer, knows from experience that people are “leaving all sorts of assets on the table” after they die. Bank accounts and property in safe deposit boxes often go unclaimed because heirs don’t know about them.  Henderson, who created Estate Map in 2014, says many people don’t think about disability or who will get access to their information when they’re incapacitated. Rather, people often keep critical documents “in a desk drawer, hoping the right person finds it at the right time,” he says.  His Web site divides the data into three categories: information on assets, the estate, and personal health and life. Estate Map costs $96 the first year and $24 a year to renew.

b.     Everplans (www.everplans.com). Co-founder Abby Schneiderman says she doesn’t think of the site as a “platform before you die, but a place to organize all details of your life when you are living.” That could include informing people where to find an extra set of keys.  You first take a short, personal assessment, including your marital status, ages of children, and whether you have a will and health care directives. Then you receive customized recommendations on what to tackle first. Everplans provides links to sites where you can download legal and health forms from your state.

 

There’s space to write your own obituary and to upload a photo for your obit. And you can leave a letter to your family or instructions about possessions.

 

Launched in March 2014, the site offers both a free version and a premium version for $75 a year. With the free model, you can’t upload documents but you can read 2,000 articles on estate and end-of-life planning. A premium user gets access to live chat support.

c.      The Torch (www.thetorch.com). Those skittish about putting sensitive documents online can use The Torch. This site doesn’t ask for personal information, such as account numbers. Instead, it allows at least two people you’ve designated to know what documents you have and where to find them.

Lenore Vassil, a former corporate technology executive, founded the company in 2012. In her research, Vassil learned that people are often reluctant to put a lot of personal information online. “My sister doesn’t need to see a copy of my will, she just needs to know I have it,” she says.

The Pro or Lifetime version ($24 a year, or a one-time charge of $144) allows you to upload the location of your Social Security card, birth certificate, safe deposit box and other information. You can create virtual notebooks on a number of topics, including what a loved one will need to know about your car, real estate, pet and people in your life.

A free version provides basic information, such as whether you have a retirement account or insurance. If you don’t have these assets, your family won’t go scrambling to find them.


STEP 5 COMMUNICATE YOUR PLANS

Here are some ideas for how you can ensure that the right people will know your pet care plan who you have designated to care for your pets.

 

1.     Send Copies to Key People

a.     Your Designated Power of Attorney (POA)

Your Financial POA may be different people from your pet caregivers, so be sure that they have copies of your pet life care agreement to help you with contacting them in an emergency and especially if you have designated funds to go to your caregiver.

 

b.     Your Designated Caregivers

Provide your primary and secondary caregivers with a copy of your pet life care agreement.  They can use that document to show that they are authorized to take your pets in case of an emergency, illness or death.

 

c.      Family members

Usually family members are designated as first contact in an emergency, but they may not be the caregivers you have designated for your pets.  Send a copy of your pet life care agreement to your family members and make sure they know how to contact your designated caregivers.

 

d.     Neighbors

It is often the neighbors who step in when there is an emergency and help care for pets at least until a family member or your designated caregivers are notified to pick up your pets in an emergency.  Provide them with the contact information page of your pet life care agreement or you may even decide to give them a copy of your Pet Life Care Certificate, which is described below.

 

 





 

 

2.     File of Life Packets & Pet Emergency Alert Cards

The file of life is a vinyl packet with a medical information for you and an emergency alert card for your pet.  The refrigerator packet has a magnet on the back and the pet emergency alert card fits into the packet as well. 

 

If fire and rescue or other first responders enter your home, and you have a file of life packet with a pet emergency alert card, not only do they know how to provide emergency care for you, they know who to contact to care for your pets.  Order File of Life Packets on our website at www.perpetualcare.org/services.

 

 


 




 

  1. Pet Life Care Certificates

A fun and practical way to let people who enter your home, know who can care for you pets is a Pet Life Care Certificate.  Perpetual Care provides pet owners with a template to use on our website at www.perpetualcare.org/services. The certificate is an 8 ½ x 11 form that can be framed and hung on your wall in a prominent place.  It should identify who to contact in an emergency to care for your pets.

 

If your neighbors are going to care for your pets until your designated caregivers arrive, add them to the notifications on your certificate and provide them with a framed copy as well.

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