Including Your Pet’s Care (and After-Care) in Your Estate Planning

By | 2016-06-10T22:32:47+00:00 June 10th, 2016|

Shortly after Life Cycle opened for business in October 2013, a woman (we’ll call her Natalie) contacted me. Natalie was clearly elderly and in ill health, but she was still spunky and positive about life.  She didn’t know how long she had to live, but she knew for certain that she would outlive her beloved and also aging cocker spaniel (who we will call Remy). After speaking with me at length, Natalie placed Life Cycle’s brochure, along with instructions to use our service for Remy, with a copy of her will. When Natalie passed away, and then Remy passed away, Natalie’s son contacted me about providing after-care for Remy. Fortunately Natalie’s son was willing to grant her wishes, despite the fact that he was not legally bound to do so. Natalie’s son could have abandoned Remy to a local pet shelter or used a different pet cremation service, because Natalie’s wishes were not explicitly included in her will.

Many pet parents, like Natalie, have told me that they want their pet’s cremated remains mixed with their own before burial or scattering. For something this important, you need to let your heirs know that you want a reputable pet cremation service, like Life Cycle, to provide after-care for your pet. This is the only way to ensure that it will, in fact, be your pet’s cremated remains that are interred or scattered with your own. Do your research, and then legally specify a service, like Life Cycle, that guarantees the return of your pet’s cremated remains by using steel ID tags, and that operates in a transparent manner.

No matter what your age or state of health, it’s important to have a will that includes instructions for the care, and after-care, of your pet.  Bellingham attorney, Emily Rose Mowrey of Limitless Law PLLC (www.limitlesslaw.com), offers this advice:

One option pet parents have is to set up a “pet trust” where they leave funds behind specifically for the care (and after-care) of their pets, appointing a trustee (human) to be in charge of spending the money appropriately. 

Another option is to appoint a pet guardian—a person who would take custody of their pet if anything happened to them and make sure it is well-taken care of. Legally, pets are property so there’s not an equivalent legal proceeding to appoint a guardian like there is for a child, but it is legally valid for a pet parent to express their wishes for their pets’ wellbeing and have their executor be obligated to follow those wishes via a pet guardianship clause in their will.

I’ve seen some sad cases where an elderly person’s beloved pet was given to a shelter because the executor didn’t like pets. Having an updated will, and including instructions for the care of a pet in that will, helps to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

When setting aside funds for your pet’s care, be sure to include the cost of food, treats, vet care, medicines, professional walker or companion, and accessories such as toys, collars, leashes, beds, etc.  Multiply the average annual cost of your pet’s maintenance by the number of years remaining in your pet’s life, and then add after-care costs. An attorney like Emily Rose Mowrey, who specializes in estate planning, can help with you with the details, ensuring that your pet will be properly cared for in both life and death.