Regardless of whether your favorite furball is a dog or a cat, you love your companion. They have been with you through triumphs and tragedies. They love you no matter your mood and offer an ear whenever you need to talk. Pets are undoubtedly important members of the family.
But what would happen to those beloved furbabies if you were to pass away? An estimated 5 to 7 million companion animals annually are taken to shelters when their owner dies, with more than half eventually euthanized. Fortunately, there is something you can do for your Fluffy or Fido. The ongoing care of your loved ones – including pets – can be addressed in estate planning.
Assign Pet Care in Your Will
There are media reports of the rich and famous leaving vast sums of money to their pets. Hotel heiress Leona Helmsley famously left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble, while cutting out her grandchildren entirely. Michael Jackson left $2 million to his chimp, Bubbles.
These are extreme examples. It is important to note that the pets did not inherit money. Texas law does not allow an animal to directly inherit assets, but money can be left for their care through a will or trust.
A will can provide care for your dog in the following ways:
- Name a pet guardian. Include a pet clause that specifies who will take care of your pet upon your passing (use the full names of the dog and caretaker). A companion animal is considered property in law, much like a ring you would bequeath to someone.
- Leave money for pet care. To help the pet guardian properly care for your animal, you should leave money or property to the guardian to pay for the pet’s care: food, grooming, vet bills, and more. You will want to name a guardian you trust because they are not legally obligated to use all the money on your furry loved one. They could buy a boat instead.
- Describe the expected care. While not legally binding, you can use your will to outline the care you would like your animal companion to receive. How often they should be groomed, what food they like to eat, and other details can be included in your will.
A Pet Trust Is Legally Binding
Where certain stipulations in your will are not legally binding, the same is not true in a pet trust. The person you name as trustee is obligated to use the money in a trust for a pet’s care only as designated. The trustee is often the pet’s guardian, but that is not a requirement.
The benefits of using a trust for the ongoing care of your pet include the following:
- Legal authority. The trustee has the legal authority and obligation to administer the trust according to your wishes.
- Account for all your pet’s needs. When deciding how much in the trust should be earmarked for your pet’s care, consider any current and possibly future health/medical needs, their daily/monthly/annual care expenses, and their life expectancy. If your pet dies and there is still money set aside for their care, any remaining money can be reverted to the trust for charitable or other purposes.
- Pet care if you become incapacitated. Unlike a will that only goes into effect upon death, the provisions and directives in a trust can be implemented in the event you become incapacitated. The trust can guide and pay for your care as well as your furry companion.
Perpetual Care Pet Programs Are an Option
Sometimes, there is no one who is willing or able to care for your pet after you are gone. In these circumstances, perpetual care programs might be your best option. Typically for a donation paid through the estate, these programs will take care of your pet for the rest of its life.
Continuing care programs for pets in Texas include the following:
Pets Are Subject to State Intestacy Laws
If you pass away in Texas with no will, your property (including pets) is subject to the state’s intestacy laws. The court will name a personal representative of the estate, who will handle probate requirements and distribute property according to intestate succession.
The personal representative will decide what happens to your pet, including the possibility of taking the pet to a shelter.
Make Sure Your Pet Is Loved After You Are Gone
Your pet has been an integral part of your life and deserves to be thoughtfully cared for when you cannot. Depending on your and your pet’s needs, you can use estate plan tools like a will or trust to keep your beloved friend from being taken to a shelter or abandoned.
Pet care can be a part of your overall estate plan strategy. Learn how you can provide for your pets, loved ones, and important charities. Our attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark M. Childress, PLLC provide free case consultations. Call (817) 497-8148 to schedule or reach out online.