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Writing A Will That Includes Your Pets

It’s been a little hectic around here the past few weeks. In addition to all the normal holiday stuff, we’re also selling our home and preparing to move into the Winnebago full-time.

To-Do ListYou would not believe the to-do list accompanying that proposition! Overseeing home inspections, locating storage facilities, preparing the Winnebago, and – of course – the packing!

We are anxious to embracing the nomadic lifestyle – at least as much as two recovering accountants can. Good-bye snow and cold, hello sunshine and margaritas! Okay – neither of us is really that crazy about margaritas. But, traveling without a schedule and no time pressure is extremely appealing!

Before we head out into the great unknown we have some “locations specific” tasks to attend to. Dentist visits were last week, doctor and veterinary appointments are next week, and this week we updated our wills.

That’s right, two healthy people, both well shy of their retirement years, have carved out time in their ridiculously busy schedule to revise their wills. Why the urgency, you ask? Ty and Buster, of course.

Our wills were last updated in 2007 – before we had Buster and when we still owned real estate. Obviously, there have been some big changes in our lives that we needed to incorporate.

Discussing your wishes for your pet after your passing can be a bit uncomfortable. No one wants to be the “crazy dog lady,” worrying more about her pets than her heirs. But, the stories of dogs and cats ending up in shelters after their owners died was all the motivation I needed to “suck it up” and do what it took to make sure Buster and Ty are always safe.

The legal gymnastics you can do around end-of-life planning is … well, endless. Not only can you name your pets’ guardian after you’re gone, you can establish trusts to cover the cost of your pets’ care. You can even make your home available to your pets’ caregivers.

Our will is a pretty simple one. The section relating to the dogs looks like this:

I give and bequeath unto PERSON’S NAME, my dogs named “Ty” and “Buster” (and Ty and Buster’s possessions), along with the total sum of XXXXX DOLLARS, to care for Ty and Buster for the rest of their lives.

Of course, it’s important to talk to the people you’re considering as caregivers and find out if they are willing to accept that responsibility. And, because things change, it’s also a good idea to include a contingency plan:

In the event that PERSON #1 is deceased or is unable or unwilling to take care of Ty and Buster, then PERSON #2, shall receive the same bequest and be subject to the same rights and obligations set forth above.

And, one more layer of insurance – just in case:

In the event that PERSON #2 is deceased, or is unable or unwilling to take care of Ty and Buster, then my Executor shall find a good and loving home to place Ty and Buster (either together or separately). The parties that adopt each dog shall receive the dog’s possessions and the total sum of XXXXX DOLLARS, to care for each dog for the rest of his life.

Make no mistake, this is not a bullet-proof guarantee that our dogs will be protected after our passing. The people we’ve named as caregivers for the dogs could “adopt” them, take the money, and immediately drop them off at a shelter. Setting up a trust and naming a trustee would prevent that, but it’s also complicated and expensive. We know and trust the people we’ve named to act in the best interest of the boys, so we’re comfortable that this is the right arrangement for us.

Is it time to create or update your will? Do you have provisions for your pets’ care that you’d like to share?

The author is not an attorney and takes the unauthorized practice of law very seriously. Please, before drafting any legal documents, consult an attorney.