Estate Planning for Pets

By Laura Chiesman

I recently attended Space Coast Cancer Foundation’s Daffodil Gala. This was a really nice event with a lot to see, including a wide array of impressive silent auction items. I noticed one display seemed to be the main attraction – Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services’ very well behaved, tail-wagging representative, surrounded by guests in beautiful party attire. Many were kneeling down getting slobbery kisses and communicating in baby talk with this big furry guy. We love pets!

The effects of pet companionship are a topic of ongoing research, and the well-documented benefits include increased physical activity, lower rates of depression, improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Pets in classrooms, hospitals and assisted living facilities are said to greatly improve the quality of life for many. Even without all this scientific back up, it’s obvious animals make many people happy and they are very invested in taking great care of their pets.

As cats, dogs and others become more and more a part of the family, the marketplace responds with seemingly unlimited products, services and luxuries for these treasured family members. I remember when I thought doggy parks and personal dog walking services were pretty impressive, and then suddenly there were pet daycares, spas and ‘resorts’ for pets! According to research, Americans spent about $58 billion (with a “B!”) on their pets in 2014. The lifetime cost of caring for a pet runs from $500 for a fish to $52,250 for a cockatoo who may live for 50 years or more.

Puppy spas complete with puppy facials could strike some of us as a bit much, but it’s very obvious we want our pets safe, happy and healthy. There is growing recognition for the need to make plans for the continuing care of pets for the long run. If something happens to you, do you have a plan for your pets?

Celebrities sometimes make the news with seemingly outrageous sums of money being left to cats or dogs. While I’m sure there are real life excesses out there, not surprisingly, the press exaggerates some of these stories. What often happens is that provisions are made for one or more pets’ lifetime care. Specific instructions and care providers are documented and funds are set aside for care with direction that any funds remaining to go back to the estate or perhaps to animal charities and causes.

This type of arrangement is not only for the very wealthy, so you don’t have to be Joan Rivers to provide for your pet’s long term care. It is becoming more common for people of varying wealth to consider pet trusts or other specific planning. Whatever level of support you want for your pets can be documented and provided for in your estate plan.

Many attorneys now routinely ask estate-planning clients about their pets and there are simple, common sense steps you can take to ensure your wishes are carried out. The Humane Society put together an informative fact sheet you can review with your financial planner and estate-planning attorney.

With one more ‘to do’ taken care of, now you can go take that dog for a walk on the beach!