Our pets become our family, our children, our fur babies, yet clients rarely include them in their estate plan. In fact, under the law, (warning: devastating news coming) pets are considered personal property, like clothes and furniture. So, what can you do?
First let me begin by clearly stating – you cannot leave money directly to your pet in your Will. Instead, you can leave money to someone else to care for your pet or set up a trust for your pet's care. It is important to consider who would take care of your pet(s) in the event that you died, and also consider an alternate in the event that your first named caretaker is unable or unwilling to care for your pet(s). It is also important to consider if your chosen caretaker could support your pet financially and/or if you want to leave a sum of money to that caretaker (or name a trustee) in the event that he or she takes in your pet after your passing.
How does this work? In your Will, you leave your beloved dog, Daisy, to your dear friend Mary and $5,000.00 to Mary for Daisy’s care and maintenance if she agrees to care for Daisy, or in the event that Mary is unable or unwilling to care for Daisy, then to your dear friend Kathy. In this example, Mary receives $5,000.00 cash only if she agrees to care for Daisy and also takes Daisy. If she does not agree, but Kathy does, then Daisy and the $5,000.00 go to Kathy. Alternatively, Pennsylvania permits pet owners to establish a pet trust, which would establish a separate trust for your pet's care both now and after you die. Some clients favor these trusts because they provide certainty that your named caretaker will actually be caring for your pet and that your trustee will only use the funds for your pet's care while your pet is alive.
For more information or to establish a plan for your beloved fur baby, you should speak with your attorney to determine the best way to protect and care for him or her in the event of your passing.