6 Reasons You Need to Include Pets in Your Will

Our pets give us love. They share our beds. We even buy them birthday presents. And though you might consider Fido to be a bona fide member of the family, the law has a different perspective. Your dog is your personal property — no different from your car or the silver china.

But unlike your other personal property, there's good reason to include your pet in your estate plan. Here's why your pet deserves a place in your will.

1. Your Pet Could End Up Lonely, Or Worse

Though pets have shorter life spans than people, many pet owners will die before their animals do. And those who fail to make arrangements for their furry friend's future care take on the risk that their beloved animal could be condemned to an ownerless life in an animal shelter — or worse. Often, pets without owners are euthanized when there are no immediate options to find them a new home.

2. You Can Designate Funds for Pet Care

Funding is optional, but a future pet care fund is recommended for pet owners who want to ensure that their pet receives a certain quality of care in the event that they're no longer around to see to it themselves. You can designate a fixed amount or a percentage of a bank account, insurance policy, retirement fund, or even a portion of the sale of a home.

If you do decide to designate funding for pet care, you need to figure out how much. Consider that pets are more expensive as they age. How long is your pet expected to live? Do you plan to compensate a person or organization to see your pet care wishes through, or are you only interested in setting aside funding for the actual pet care services?

It's also important to determine who or what organization will be in charge of the funds. In a pet trust, the person who manages the funds is called the trustee. It's smart to consider a backup trustee in case your first choice becomes unwilling or unable to do the job.

3. You Can Keep Bonded Pets Together

If you have multiple pets that were raised together or developed a close bond, you can save them from the emotional trauma of separation by including instructions to keep them together in your will.

4. You Can Name a Pet Guardian

Sometimes friends or family members vow to take in a cat or parrot in the event of a pet owner's death. Yet many of these informal promises, however well-intentioned, fail to play out as planned. This is why it's beneficial to designate a pet guardian.

A pet guardian is any person or organization who will become responsible for your pets and for the task of carrying out your pet care instructions. This can include the role of monitoring any funding set aside for pet care, or you may instead designate a completely different person or organization to assume the role of trustee. If a pet organization assumes the role of pet guardian, you should be sure to include directions about adoption. It's also vital that you research whether the pet organization has a fee for pet guardianship. If it does, you must factor in this fee when deciding how to disburse your funds.

5. You Can Name a Successor Pet Guardian

The goal is to ensure that your pet is cared for when you're no longer around to see to this end yourself. So it only makes sense that a successor pet guardian should be named to take the guardianship duties over in the event that your primary pet guardian becomes unable or unwilling to do the job.

6. A Cautionary Tale: Wild Wishes Could Be Ignored

The instructions you leave for the care of your pet should be sensible and legal. Just because you write it in your will doesn't necessarily mean it will be carried out. In fact, a will cannot enforce far-fetched demands when there's no one willing or legally able to uphold them. At its core, estate planning is solely intended to distribute property. Wild wishes can be ignored.

In perhaps the most extreme cautionary tale, billionaire real estate heiress Leona Helmsley famously left 12 million dollars for the care of her white Maltese, Trouble. "I direct that when my dog, Trouble, dies, her remains shall be buried next to my remains in the Helmsley mausoleum," Helmsley wrote in her will. But very few of the instructions she left in her will were followed. Millions of dollars that Helmsley intended to be spent on the dog went to other purposes because she never specified how all of the money should be spent, and the cemetery where Helmsley was buried refused to ignore a legal policy that forbids the interring of nonhuman remains at human cemeteries.

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