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Thinking About Your Pets

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

I own pets. Many of my neighbors own pets. Additionally, a large number of the clients that I have helped with estate planning or probate work own pets too. Because of this, I am sensitive to and aware of pet owners who come to me to get their estate planning done. I understand the connection that a person can have with a pet and the desire that a pet’s owner would have to take care of their pets if something were to happen to them.

As an estate planning attorney, I am all in favor of having a good plan in place that will take care of a person’s pets if they can no longer take care of them themselves, or after the owner has passed away. However, I am not in favor of leaving estate money, property, or other assets directly to a pet. In my experience, doing this is a recipe for disaster and usually results in costly and time-consuming litigation.

As a result of this, I usually talk with my clients who own pets about some very specific things that they can do to make sure that their pets will be properly cared for. The purpose of this article is to summarize some of these things. This article will not be exhausted on this topic, but rather is a good starting place for a pet owner who is concerned about what will happen to their pets.

At the Racine law office, we have assisted clients with all of their estate planning concerns and needs for more than 70 years. Our team of premier Idaho estate planning and probate attorneys have the experience and skill necessary to assist each client with their own unique circumstances. We are confident that we can help you!

So, as a summary, what are some of the things that a pet owner can do when it comes to creating a plan to care for their pets either would they are no longer able to do so or after they have passed away? Below are a few things that you could consider that might be helpful to you as a pet owner.

Should I Use a Pet Protection Agreement While I am Alive?

A pet owner could use a pet protection agreement while they are alive. This type of agreement is usually entered into with a business or an individual whose job is to care for pets when their owner is no longer able to do so. It’s possible that the pet owner may want to continue to have the pet stay in the home. In this circumstance, a written pet protection agreement would require the individual providing the assistance to come to the owner’s home and help with the pet there. Alternatively, if the pet owner no longer resides in the home, the pet protection agreement usually requires the person providing the service to take the pet in and care for it at their own facilities.

At its heart, a pet protection agreement is simply a contract. Based on the contract, and the terms and conditions that are written in it, the owner would be required to pay a certain fee for the services provided. In exchange for this, the person or business providing the service would be required to provide everything for the pet that is described in the written agreement.

While pet protection agreements are not new, they are not well-known. If you have questions, you should contact a local pet sitting service or other businesses listed online or marketed in other ways to determine whether or not they offer this service.

Where Will My Pets Go After I Die?

This brings us to the next concern that most pet owners have which is where will my pets go after I die? The answer to this question really depends on whether or not you have completed a written estate plan.

No Estate Planning Documents

If you have no written estate planning documents done, such as a last will and testament, then your pets will be treated as any other property that you own. In other words, the laws of intestacy based on Idaho’s statutes will determine who all your money, property, and other assets go to. If you have a spouse, or surviving children, it’s likely they will inherit your pets.

If you do not have any close living relatives, then it’s possible that a distant relative could end up owning your pets. If you have no beneficiaries, then the government will become the owner of your estate including any of your pets. For this reason, we encourage all of our clients to have a written estate plan where they are in control of who and when their pets go to.

Written Last Will and Testament

The most common written estate planning document is a last will and testament. In a last will and testament, you are able to specifically designated who your pets will be transferred to upon your death. You also have the ability of leaving other property or assets such as money to the individual who will receive your pets so that they have the ability to take care of your pets.

However, it’s important for you to understand that again in this circumstance your pets are considered to be property that is simply being transferred to whoever you list. You cannot dictate in your written last will and testament the terms and conditions of how the person receiving your pets must deal with them and treat them after you are gone. Rather, the purpose of a last will and testament is simply to designate who your property, including your pets, will be transferred to.

Once your pets have been transferred to the new owner, the new owner is able to do with your pets whatever they choose. The reason for this, is because the new owners are the owners of your pets. Your pet simply become their property. A person is able to do whatever they want with their own property within the constraints of applicable law.

Trust

If you are concerned about what will happen to your pets after they are transferred, you do have the ability to use a trust, rather than a written last will and testament, to control what happens to your pets. For example, you can leave your prized dog to a niece or nephew through a trust. The trust could then have language stating that so long as the pet is well cared for and alive, the niece or nephew will receive an annual payment from the trust.

Through a trust, you can also put other terms or conditions on who receives your pets and how they are to care for your pets. Even still, I usually suggest to my clients that they not require onerous specifics. Rather, it is usually almost always best to simply allow the new owner to provide the care for your pets that they see fit.

So, if you have pets, and you were concerned about what will happen to them towards the end of your life or after you have passed away, we can help. We have assisted numerous clients and coming up with a plan on how to take care of their pets and we are confident that we can help you too! Please call us for a free 30-minute consultation.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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