Saturday, October 22, 2011
What will happen to your pets ?
Hardly a day goes by without a commercial about life insurance policies, wills or other methods of planning for a loved ones future without you. We understand the importance in doing this for children, but what about our pets? Most of us take for granted that we will outlive them. The best estimate is that at least half a million pets are put to sleep annually because they outlive their owners. These are not stray or wild animals, these are the beloved pets who share our beds, our homes and our lives. It is difficult for us to be rational at the loss of one of our cherished pets, but as humans, we have the ability to reason – they’re in a better place, they’re no longer in pain, etc. Pets cannot reason this way and are confused as to why their lives have changed and have suddenly been put in a shelter. Sometimes these are older pets that have little chance of being rehomed. One way to avoid this is to make arrangements for your pets in your will. We like to think that family members would tend to our dogs when the truth is, most have no space, resources or desire to have additional pets. This is especially true for those of us with multiple pets.
Most of us are relatively familiar with the traditional will, but don’t stop to think about how this affects our pets. Although they are a primary focus of our day to day lives, they are often little more than an afterthought in relation to legal documents and estate planning in general. Can you provide for pets in a will? This one is much more complicated and cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
Pets are considered property under the law so they can be included as part of a will. They can be left to someone specific. They cannot, however; be the beneficiary of a will. In simple terms, a pet cannot be left your estate (money, etc) since they cannot legally own property. In addition, there is another problem with only providing for your pets in your will. A will is not in effect until your death. Depending on your estate, it may be weeks, months or even years before the details of the estate are finalized. What happens to your pets during this period or if you are incapacitated? In the midst of difficult times, pets can be neglected or forgotten without written instructions in the hands of appropriate caregivers. Even if you choose to go this route, you should put something in place for emergency situations other than death before a will is finalized.
Another consideration is that a will allows for you to leave your pets to someone, but typically does not detail anything beyond. There are no stipulations as to their care or lifestyle. In fact, the person who inherited your cherished pet could abandon them the following day and still meet their requirements under the law. Given this scenario, deciding who will take your pets really needs some thought and planning.
Obviously, it can be difficult to adequately provide for pets in wills. Progress has been made and slowly, the legal system is realizing that many of us consider our pets more akin to children than inanimate objects. It is believed that the laws will continue to offer more assistance to pet parents to ensure our furry friends remain well cared for, no matter what.