Sunday, December 30, 2007

Your Estate is Going to the Dogs

Category: Estate Planning

This news story about estate planning for pets is not as rare as you might think. For many people, the care of their beloved pets is a primary concern should they become ill or pass away.

3 Md. dogs enjoy $800,000 inheritance - Yahoo! News: "The dogs — named Buckshot, Katie and Obu-Jet — inherited $400,000 and a house in Hagerstown with the death last year of owner Ken Kemper. Altogether, their estate is worth about $800,000.

The beagle and two Labrador mixes were strays when Kemper adopted them. They now live at their house with caretaker Roy Grady.

They might not be aware of their wealth, but they do know that on one night a week Grady treats them to spaghetti dinner, with meatballs and garlic bread."

Interestingly, I find that people with pets and people with small children share the same rationale/excuse for not preparing an estate plan "We can't agree on who to name to care for our children/our dogs should we die." Now, I remind people with children that not naming guardians is a true dis-service to your kids because if you don't name Guardians a total stranger who you have never met will name Guardians - and you might not like who they name.

The difference is that with children the law provides a mechanism to provide someone to be in charge of them and the cost of caring for them if you can't (not that this should be an excuse for not creating a Will and naming Guardians). With pets, there is no built-in protection of laws to provide for a home, costs of food, medicine, etc., and most important, loving guidance and supervision. You the owner must do that or your best friend may end up in the pound. This doesn't need to be a difficult or insurmountable task - it just requires a bit of forethought and planning. Some ideas:

+ Leave your pets to a relative who will love and care for them. Give the person a cash bequest to cover potential costs of care.

+ Don't know who to leave the pets to? Direct your Executor to find an appropriate home, and give your Executor the ability to make a cash bequest up to a certain amount to cover the costs of care.

+ Create a "Pet Trust" for the care of the your pets during their lifetimes. In the news article above, the pets house went in the trust and the trust paid to maintain their home, as well as acquire a care-giver for them. Make sure you consider mechanism to have an outside party verify the caregiver is doing a good job.

+ Research an "old-age" home for pets and leave your pets to them together with the requested bequest from the pet home.

Whatever you do, tell the person who is the immediate caregiver if you are hurt that they need to take the pets into their care immediately. After all, your pets can't call in the phone to order a pizza if nobody gets out their chow at the normal time.


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