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Remember to Include Pets in Your Estate Planning

Remember to Include Pets in Your Estate Planning

(ARA)- Even if you have done some estate planning and have a will in place, there's one topic you may not have considered--who will take care of your pets when you are no longer able to do it? And who will pay for that care?
"When someone adopts a pet, they take on a lifetime commitment to provide love and care for them," says Gary Flotron, vice president of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils. Whether the need for an alternate caregiver is temporary, more long term or permanent (as in the death of the owner), pet owners should have a plan in place so there are no questions as to the care and well-being of their animal companions.
The first step in making plans for the care of your pet is to determine who you would like to look after your animal. For many, this will be their immediate family (children, spouse or other relatives). But don't just assume that someone in your family will take care of your pet. Discuss the situation with them to make sure they have the time and the inclination to become your pet's caretaker. If you don't have a family member who is willing to agree to take your pets, then you'll have to broaden your search to include friends, neighbors and even pet rescue groups.
You may also want to consider different caretakers for different needs. For example, a neighbor may be able to step in and care for your pet during an emergency hospital stay, but be unwilling to commit to a longer-term arrangement. And while you may consider sending your pet off to a caretaker who lives far away for a long-term need, it doesn't make sense to do so for a shorter stay.
Once you find someone who agrees to be a permanent caretaker for your pet, you need to discuss practical consideration such as money. "You and your caretaker need to discuss whether they need or expect some kind of compensation for caring for your pet," says Flotron. To come up with a reasonable amount for this, you'll want to take in account your pet's age, health and life expectancy. The website is a great resource and has a template you can use to do the calculations.
You'll want to make this all legal, and if you're providing money, arrange for that as well. There are two legal instruments that allow you to nominate a person you trust to manage your property and financial affairs in the event you are incapacitated--a durable power of attorney and a revocable living trust.
A durable power of attorney names a trusted person to act on your behalf with regard to property and financial matters. The document can either be effective when it is executed (signed) or it can have self-triggering provisions that cause the powers to come into effect only when you are incapacitated.
A revocable living trust serves many functions, one of which is to provide a mechanism for someone to take over and manage the trust property upon the incapacity of the trust creator. In order for a revocable living trust to be effective, it must be funded; that is, assets must be titled in the name of the trust. The trustee can be given the authority to expend funds to see that your pets are cared for according to your wishes.
When arranging for care of your pets after your death, using your will to do so may not be your best option. "Wills must go through probate, which can be a long and public process," explains Flotron. "There are actual cases where disgruntled relatives have tried to contest the amount of money left to care for pets."
The revocable living trust, mentioned above, is probably the safest way to ensure your wishes will be followed. It serves as an alternative to a will that avoids the probate process; it can also establish "sub trusts" at your death for the benefit of your spouse, children, a charity or your pet. Unlike a will, the revocable living trust is a private, non-public arrangement that avoids will contests and the publicity associated with the probate process.
Planning for the care of your pets is an important part of overall planning for yourself and your family. To learn more about estate planning, contact The National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC) at (866) 226-2224.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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