I. Ways to Provide Money to Care for Your Beloved Pet
As of 2023, 66 percent of US households own a pet. A Forbes Advisor survey of more than 5,000 dog owners found that 41 percent of dog owners spend between $500 and $1,999 a year on their dogs and 8 percent spend more than $2,000 annually. In addition to the annual cost of care, there is always the potential for emergency veterinary care, which can be costly. As a pet owner, you may have concerns about what would happen to your pet if you die or were unable to make decisions or care for your pet. There are several options to ensure that money will be available so your beloved furry family member will continue to receive the same level of care and support that you have always given them.
You will want to evaluate the weekly, monthly, and annual costs associated with your pet’s needs. This process will help you determine a specific amount required to cover your pet’s anticipated lifetime expenses.
 Michelle Megna & Ashlee Tilford, Pet Ownership Statistics 2023, Forbes Advisor (June 21, 2023), https://www.forbes.com/advisor/pet-insurance/pet-ownership-statistics/#:~:text=to%20pet%20ownership%3A-,As%20of%202023%2C%2066%25%20of%20U.S.%20households%20(86.9%20million,acquired%20pets%20during%20the%20pandemic.
Lump Sum to the Caregiver
One option to financially provide for your pet is to give a lump sum to the person you choose to care for your pet at your death. This option is the easiest to carry out and does not involve any ongoing administration or oversight. However, because the money goes directly to the caregiver, there will be no one monitoring the use of the funds. You must trust that the caregiver will use the funds for the pet’s benefit.
Pet Trust With the Caretaker as the Trustee
This approach to planning for a pet is a little more complicated than just giving money to the caregiver. In this scenario, money would be set aside in a trust specifically to care for your pet. There may be administrative requirements that the caretaker, as trustee, must complete, such as submitting an accounting of the trust’s income and expenses to a specified person. Despite these requirements, this approach does provide some flexibility because the caregiver and the trustee are the same person, meaning that a third party does not have to be consulted before expenses are paid or the caregiver is reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs. It is important to note that with one person serving in both roles, there is still a risk that funds may not be spent appropriately on the pet without oversight by a third party.
Pet Trust With Separate Parties Serving as Caretaker and Trustee
The final option provides the maximum protection for the money set aside for the pet. The pet trust will contain funds to care for the pet, but the caretaker will need to work with the trustee to gain access to the funds in the trust. The trustee can ensure that the money is being used for the pet. This may be a wise option if you have animals that cost a lot to care for such as horses or exotic animals, because the amount necessary to care for them could be more than you feel comfortable handing over to someone without any oversight.
Make Sure Your Plan Stays Up-to-Date
By proactively planning for your pets, you can ensure that they are cared for and supported if you cannot do so yourself. If you already have an estate plan that provides for your pet, an annual review of your estate planning documents can address changes in circumstances, such as acquiring additional pets, an increase in your pet’s needs, the designated caregiver’s situation, or your finances.
Attorney Becky Price’s team at Ibis Legacy Law, LLC can also help you create the appropriate legal documents that meet Ohio’s applicable laws and regulations. Peace of mind comes from knowing that your pet will transition to their caregiver smoothly, with as little disruption to their routine and environment as possible. Taking care of your loved ones’ futures, including your pets, is priceless.
II. Who Will Care for Your Pet?
If you have a severe illness or accident or pass away, who will you trust to look after your pet? There are many ways to ensure your pet continues to have a loving home.
Guardian of Your Minor Children
If you also have minor children, the nominated guardian of your minor children can be a good first choice to take care of the family pet. The guardian is already taking on the large responsibility of caring for your children, so they may also be willing to take care of your pet. In addition, having the beloved family pet stay with the children may comfort them during a difficult time in their lives. It is important that you discuss this with your nominated guardian to ensure that they are willing to undertake the additional responsibility.
Family or Friends
When selecting a caregiver for your pet, most people look to a trusted family member or friend who may be willing to care for them. This person has probably spent time with your pet and already knows their typical routines and behaviors, making them more comfortable taking on the responsibility. This choice may also provide your pet with a familiar environment. However, taking on a new furry family member is a big responsibility that requires some considerations:
- Does their lifestyle, home, and comfort with pets make them a good fit for caregiving?
- Do they already have other pets? If yes, do they get along with each other?
- Do they understand the expectations and level of care that the pet requires?
- Are there specific instructions or preferences they may not be able to accommodate?
- Can they afford the financial responsibility of supporting a pet?
Animal Welfare Organizations
In some instances, animal welfare organizations such as shelters, rescue groups, sanctuaries, or foundations can take your pet and find a suitable home. Look for reputable organizations in the area and visit them to assess their cleanliness, staff interactions with animals, and overall environment. The organization must provide a safe and comfortable space while locating a loving permanent home. You should also consider whether this organization euthanizes pets that are not adopted and whether that plays into your choice of organization. Creating a comprehensive profile of your pet, including their medical history, behavior, preferences, and any special needs, with photographs and videos of the pet, could make the adoption process easier for the organization.
Executor’s or Trustee’s Choice
Depending on your situation, you may feel more comfortable with giving the person who winds down your affairs (the executor or trustee) the authority to choose the most suitable home for your pet. Because things can change unexpectedly, providing this level of flexibility can help ensure that your pet goes to a suitable, loving home, even if it is not a home that you initially considered.
Make Your Wishes Known in Your Estate Plan
By proactively planning, you can make financial and care arrangements for your pet’s care well in advance, making the transition easier on everyone involved.
Once everything is clearly documented for your pet’s care in either a will or trust, you must keep your legal documents and any other pertinent information easily accessible to the designated caretaker and ensure it is kept up to date. Let family members, executors, or trustees know the location of any necessary documentation to care for your pet.
III. Six Things You Need to Do Now to Protect Your Beloved Pets
Pets sometimes outlive their owners. If you suffer an accident or illness, it could leave your cat, dog, horse, iguana, or any other pet without a caregiver, which, without proper planning, could result in your beloved pet being sent to an animal rescue or shelter that is not of your choosing. Take a few steps to protect your beloved pet’s future and ensure they are always cared for, no matter what happens.
1. Carefully Choose a Pet Caregiver
Talk to more than one trusted person until you find someone willing to physically care for your pet if something happens to you. If you have more than one candidate, select one as your backup in case circumstances change—a caregiver can move, change their mind, or pass away. Caregivers must have the right environment to receive your pet and accommodate their daily needs.
2. Create a List of Emergency Contacts
Just like people, pets likely have professionals that should be called in an emergency. This can include their primary veterinarian and any specialist they may be seeing. You may also want to include the contact information for any boarding facilities you have used in the past or pet sitters that come to your home when you cannot take your pet with you.
3. Create a List of Your Pet’s Medications
Like people, some animals need medications to cure a temporary illness or supplements to manage a chronic condition. It is important that you have a list of these medications and times when they are administered to make sure that whoever is caring for your pet is prepared to administer them.
4. Create a Budget for Your Pet’s Needs
Your checklist should include monthly or annual expenses for your pet, including the following:
- Regular pet food purchases
- Recommended supplements or vitamins
- Routine veterinary checkups and vaccinations
- Preventive medications (flea, tick, heartworm)
- Dental cleanings and care
- Prescription medications for chronic conditions or illnesses
- Haircuts or professional grooming services
- Litter, litter boxes, waste bags
- Toys and enrichment items
- Pet insurance premiums
- Training or obedience classes
- Travel expenses
Developing this budget will help you estimate costs that a caregiver may have to shoulder or allow you to set aside an appropriate amount of money in your estate plan (either outright to the caretaker or in a pet trust) to cover expenses for your pet’s expected lifetime based on age, health, and breed.
5. Research Local Shelters
Although you do not want your pet to end up in a shelter if something happens to you, it is important that you plan for all contingencies. By researching local shelters and pet rescues, you can take control of your pet’s future by knowing which one would be acceptable in the event your family or friends cannot take your pet. This is a decision that we can document in your estate plan so that your trusted decision-makers know your wishes.
6. Contact an Estate Planning Attorney
Armed with a detailed list of expenses and critical information, you will be prepared to share it with potential pet caregivers if you experience a medical emergency and can no longer care for your pet. The best way to do this is with legal documentation. Take this information to an estate planning attorney to create a will or pet trust with a letter of instruction for your pet caregiver. Let your pet caregiver know you have a will naming them the beneficiary of your pet or as the trustee of a funded pet trust to help them with caretaking expenses. Give them the name and contact information of your executor, trustee, and estate planning attorney so they can access a copy of your documents when necessary.
We Are Here to Help
If your pet outlives you, a trusted caretaker will have what they need to ensure a loving environment. By taking the right steps, you will be helping your family members, friends, or local pet welfare agencies provide the best possible care for your pet.
If you need to update your existing estate plan or create a new one to provide for your beloved bet, give Attorney Becky Price’s team at Ibis Legacy Law, LLC a call to help you embark on the crucial journey of estate planning, ensuring that your loved ones are spared unnecessary difficulties in honoring your life and wishes for the future. Please call us at 216-991-6200 to get started.