Estate Planning for Your Pets

Love and affection for our family and friends is usually the driving force behind a person completing an estate plan. Whether it be trying to protect and provide for our family and friends after we are gone, or just trying to give them a simple thank you for being an important part of our lives, a detailed estate plan is the best way to guarantee these wishes and desires are carried out as intended. Without an estate plan, your estate and everything you’ve worked to earn throughout your life is subject to the intestate laws of your state. In other words, your stuff goes to whomever the state laws say it goes to. Often times that means it will go to close family members (spouse, children, or parents), but not every situation is simple and many people want to be more specific about where there property ends up which is why a well-crafted estate plan is essential.

When most people complete their estate plan, they believe they are taking care of all of their loved ones. However, most people don’t even realize they have overlooked some of their most beloved family members, the four-legged family members with fur, or the ones with wings and feathers, the ones that don’t complain and only want our love and attention, they leave out their companion animals and pets. We do so much for our companion animals and pets while we are alive, and they bring us so much joy, so it’s a wonder we don’t do whatever we can to take care of them after we are gone. It could be either through unintended oversight or ignorance of your estate planning attorney regarding the laws and options available, but there are possibilities to consider. Rebecca Wrock covers the importance and some of the more detailed nuances of such planning in her article of the July 2018 Michigan Bar Journal titled “Planning for Pets with Default Profisions, Thoughtful Questions, and Compassionate Counseling.”

Without an estate plan, as mentioned earlier, your companion animals or pets will be at the mercy of the intestate laws in your state which is a terrifying thought for such a loved member of your family. Even with an estate plan in place, if it does not address your pets, it could certainly put them at the mercy of whoever you’ve nominated to carry out your estate that may not share the same passion and considerations for animals that you have. 

Pets cannot express their thoughts desires after you’re gone and they are no doubt incredibly vulnerable after losing their companion humans as well, so it’s important to ensure they go to a loving home and not be stuck with whoever is willing to take them. Or if you are fortunate and have awesome pets, you don’t want to create more family tension and infighting over who gets the privilege of adopting your amazing pets. As their companion, you know them better than anyone and have a better understanding of them than anyone. For instance, even though your brother, his wife and their two young toddlers provide a loving home, the high energy and constant chaos that comes with young children probably isn’t the best place for your slow moving elderly dog that is enjoying the slow pace of life in her golden years. Conversely, your outgoing cat who loves to be the center of attention may have a better and more enjoyable time in such a home.

While who is going to care for your pet (caretaker) may often times be the biggest question, pet planning can be as specific as necessary regarding the care provided to your pet. A pet trust can allow you to plan the funding to meet your pets needs for the expected remainder of their life, such as food, veterinary bills, toys, and other associated expenses which eases your proposed caretaker’s financial burden of taking on a new family member. Pet trusts can also allow for the addition of a trust protector, to make sure your trust is being administered in accordance with your wishes and that your pet is getting their needs met. Another important consideration is care instructions. While taking care of a pet sounds simple, these are our loved ones we are talking about and we know our animals have unique personalities. Some detailed instructions will let the proposed caretaker know what your pet’s likes and dislikes such as what food they like, where do they like to be scratched, when and where they like to go on walks, when they need attention, and so forth. While this information is easily known to you, it is not so easily known by the caretaker and an extensive list of this information can allow them to make the transition for your pet as smooth as possible.

Thoroughly considering these concerns and all of your options to address them prior to executing your estate plan can prepare everyone for possible future. With a pet trust or power of attorney for pet care, not only can you ensure that your beloved dog is taken care in accordance with her own high maintenance standards she is accustomed to and rightfully deserves, but more importantly, you can further guarantee that the dirty and annoying ferret your spouse just had to have is disinherited!

As a pet friendly office, the estate planning attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler and Associates are well versed on the considerations and available options when drafting pet inclusive estate plans. Contact our Milford office at 248-676-1000 for more information about estate planning in general as well as how we can address your specific needs. We help clients throughout Southeastern Michigan, including Genessee, Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties, as well as Mid-Michigan in Clare, Gladwin, Ogemaw, and Roscommon Counties. Our experienced attorneys have counseled such clients in Milford; Hartland; Highland; White Lake; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; West Bloomfield; South Lyon; New Hudson; Brighton; Howell; Ann Arbor; Holly; Fenton; Flint; Linden; Clarkston; Houghton Lake; Higgins Lake; Roscommon and many more local communities.