Most people understand the term “guardianship” as something that has to do with caretaking of children or adults who cannot do so for themselves. Addressing guardianship of people you are responsible for taking care of is an essential aspect of estate planning. In the case of your passing away you will want to make sure that those who you have guardianship over are taken care of. However, many people will forget to take into consideration guardianship of their pets when developing their estate plan.
What is pet guardianship?
Legally speaking, as of now, pet guardianship does not technically exist. Although this topic has been hotly contested between legal academics and animal rights activists, since animals do not legally have rights like people do, the term “guardianship” actually does not legally apply. A person does not have guardianship over a pet, but instead they are said to have ownership of an animal. Pets are legally considered property, similar to any other asset, such as furniture or a house.
This means that in order to make sure your pet is taken care of after your passing away you will have to integrate your pet into your estate plan in the same manner as you would a piece of property. Here are some potential methods to accomplish this:
Will or trust
Including your pet in your will or trust is one of the first things you should do when trying to make sure your pet will be safe after your death. Choose a friend or relative that you trust to take care of your pet. You may want to leave this person with a sum of money to pay for the caretaking of the pet, however this is not absolutely necessary. On the other hand, you should realize that the chosen caregiver will not have a legal obligation to provide any care for your pet, which means you should be sure to choose this person carefully.
Power of attorney
Another essential element of estate planning for your pet is the power of attorney document. This legal document names a person or entity that is legally responsible for taking care of your affairs in the case that you are incapacitated. Of course, this would include arranging care for your pet.
Using a pet trust may be preferable to including your pet in your will or trust. With this special type of trust, the trustee will have the legal obligation to take care of your pet. The trust document should detail exactly how you would like your pet taken care of. You will also need to leave the trustee with enough money to care for the pet. The trustee will have the option to give any leftover money not needed to any of your other beneficiaries listed in your will.
There are numerous charitable organizations whose objective is to provide homes for pets when their owners pass away without providing directions on how to care for the pet in the will or trust. You can even provide instructions in your will or trust to have your pet be given to your chosen charity.
A wealth management adviser can help
Regardless of what estate planning method you use to ensure your pet is taken care of you will need to make sure it is integrated into your larger estate planning strategy. This will require consideration of important financial decisions. Consulting with a professional wealth management adviser is one option which can help you make sure your pets are cared for.
The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete, it is not a statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision, and it does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct.
Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.