If You Have Never Considered Adding Your Pet

to Your Estate Plan You May Be Wondering How
Complicated It Is to Include Your Pet
In America we sure do love our pets. In fact, per capita we own more pets
than any other country – by far – in the world. If you have a Fido, Fluffy, or
even a reptilian friend that you consider part of the family you undoubtedly
want to protect your pet in the event that something happens to you at
some point in the future. The best way to accomplish this is to include your
pet in your comprehensive estate plan. If you have never considered
adding your pet to your estate plan you may be wondering how
complicated it is to include your pet. Although each situation is unique,
incorporating pet planning in to most estate plans is actually rather simple.

In the United States, pets are truly treated as part of the family in most
homes. Products that cater to dogs and cats fly off the shelves with new
ways to pamper your pet being introduced on a regular basis. If you don’t
own some type of pet you are actually in the minority in America. Consider
the following facts:

 In 2012, 62 percent of all American household owned at least one
 Americans own about 83 million dogs and 95 million cats
 Americans own approximately 140 million freshwater fish and 10
million saltwater fish
 Americans own 16 million birds, 11 million reptiles, and another 18
million small pets
 We own an average of 1.47 dogs and 2.11 cats per household in
 One in five dog owners takes the dog along when traveling
 Five percent of cat owners and ten percent of dog owners host
birthday parties for their pet
 Dog and cat owners spend an average of between $200-$250 each
year for routine veterinary visits


Assuming that you consider your pet to be part of your family, have you
considered what will happen to your pet should something unexpected
happen to you? Your existing
estate plan should provide
protection and financial support
for your loved ones in the event
of your sudden incapacity or
death; however, if your pet is not
included in your plan the
consequences could be dire. Each
year over half a million animals are abandoned because of the death or
incapacity of the pet’s owner. Often, this occurs when the owner is elderly
and has no one to step in and take care of the pet when the owner
becomes unable to do so. Even a pet owned by a young family can
suddenly be forgotten if tragedy strikes the family. Much like you would do
for a minor child, specific plans must be created to ensure that your pet
isn’t left without a caretaker and the funds to provide that care.


People often make the mistake of relying on an informal plan for their pet.
This could include nothing more than a verbal agreement or mentioning
the pet in a Letter of Instruction. There are a number of reasons why
informal arrangements like this are not sufficient to ensure your pet’s
continued care and well-being should you become incapacitated or die.
Consider the following reasons why informal planning often fails:

 Not legally binding –a conversation you had with a family member
or friend does not create a legally binding agreement that can be
enforced in court if necessary. Even a Letter of Instruction isn’t
legally binding; although it may be enough for a court to award your
chosen caretaker legal ownership of your pet should you die.
 Incapacity isn’t covered –a Letter of Instruction isn’t read until
you die, meaning that it will not help determine your pet’s fate
should you become incapacitated.
 No funding source – informal arrangements do not provide a
funding source for your pet’s care and maintenance. Unless your
intended caretaker is willing to pay out of his or her pocket to care
for your pet your pet could end up in a shelter for lack of funds.
 Caretaker unavailable/unwilling –the individual with whom you
made the agreement, or whom you mention in your Letter of
Instructions, may have predeceased you, moved away, or simply be
unwilling to step in and care for your pet when the time comes.
 Likelihood of confusion –in the absence of a legal document
stating what is to happen to your pet should you become unable to
provide care yourself confusion may reign supreme. Well-meaning
loved ones may have no idea what to do with your pet unless the
intended caregiver is notified and step forward.

The law considers your pet to be your legal property. If you own an animal
you would likely argue that
your animal actually owns
you, not the other way
around; however, in the
eyes of the law your pet is
your property just as your
vehicle or your clothes are
your property. Because Fido
or Fluffy are property you may bequeath him or her to someone in your
Last Will and Testament. The advantage to doing this instead of using an
informal arrangement is that it legally transfers ownership of your pet to
the intended caretaker. You also have the option to gift assets to the
caretaker to use for your pet’s care in the future.

Gifting your pet in your Will is certainly preferable to relying on an informal
arrangement; however, there are still a number of disadvantages, such as:

 Does not cover incapacity
 Caregiver may be unavailable
 No continuing control over assets once gifted
 No continuing control over pet’s care once gifted

To ensure that your pet is well cared for under any circumstances that
could arise down the road a pet trust provides the best of all worlds. Trusts
have become almost commonplace in estate planning over the past few
decades because of their flexibility and ease of creation. Pet trusts, in
particular, are rapidly gaining in popularity, due in large part to the
assurance they provide a pet owner regarding their pet.
A pet trust is created the same way as any other trust except that the
beneficiary is an animal instead of a human or a business. A trustee must
be named to oversee the trust itself and to manage the trust assets. You
have the option to name your intended caretaker as the trustee or to name
a neutral third party. Consider some of the many benefits a pet trust

 Continued control –a trust allows you to exert control over both
your assets and your pet long after your incapacity or death. By
creating specific trust terms you can control as much, or as little, of
your pet’s life as you wish. The trust terms, along with the trustee
you choose, will also allow continued control over the assets
transferred into the trust.
 Legally binding – a trust is a separate legal entity once it takes
effect. The terms of a trust are enforceable in a court of law should it
become necessary to do so.
 Contemplates incapacity –a pet trust is the only option that
contemplates your incapacity. Your trust terms can cause the trust to
take effect upon your incapacity as well as your death.
 Covers contingencies –you have the ability to name both
successor trustees and successor caretakers should something
happen to one or the other.

Only your estate planning attorney can provide you with specific advice
regarding the inclusion of your pet into your estate plan. The important
thing is to start discussing the matter to ensure that your pet doesn’t
become another statistics should something happen to you.

The Humane Society of the United States, Pets by the Numbers
ASPCA, Pet Care
American Bar Association, Estate Planning Issues Involving Pets
AVMA, Pet Trusts: Caring for a Pet That Outlives Its Owner

About the Author
Richard B. Schneider
Before devoting his professional efforts primarily to estate
planning, Mr. Schneider spent over fifteen years working on
Wall Street for major law firms and investment banks. After
graduating from law school, he practiced general civil law
in New York City for five years, specializing in business
transactions, financings and corporate matters. He also
represented major investment banking firms in mortgage
trading and real estate-related matters. Among his clients
were international shipping companies, commercial and
investment banks and institutional lenders, including
General Electric Capital Corporation, Salomon Brothers and
Merrill Lynch.

For the next ten years Mr. Schneider served as Senior Vice President at the investment
banking firm of Kidder, Peabody, where he managed outside legal counsel for a variety
of large financial transactions between major institutions. He played a central role in the
creation of Kidder, Peabody’s mortgage trading subsidiary and advised and executed
transactions with insurance companies, pension funds and government agencies,
including the Resolution Trust Company.

In 1996 Mr. Schneider established a residence in Portland, Oregon and began his law
practice there in 1997. He has made a long-term commitment to providing first-class
estate planning legal services to families and individuals within the Portland
metropolitan area and the surrounding SW Washington region. His motivations for
moving to the Northwest were several: the natural scenic beauty of the Northwest
landscape, the clean air and streets, the healthy, diversified economy and the overall
high quality of life. Mr. Schneider is very grateful for the warm reception he has received
from Portland/Vancouver and is pleased to have become a respected member of the
Portland/Vancouver legal and business community.

Mr. Schneider is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, the
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Estate Planning Council of Portland and is
on the board of directors of the the Rental Housing Association of Greater Portland. He
is admitted to practice in Oregon, Washington and New York.

Law Offices of Richard B Schneider, LLC
2455 NW Marshall St, Suite 11
Portland, OR 97210
Phone: (503) 241-1215

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