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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 List
You 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.


Comment Archive

cat care guide May 19, 2011 at 6:49 am
As pet owners, you should give attention to your pets. They do need not only material things but as well as love and care coming from the owner. Spending time with your pet makes they feel that you really care for them.
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Amy@GoPetFriendly Dec 13, 2010 at 2:12 pm
It's so true, Mary. People's circumstances change and it would be a big pain to have to update your will every time. It made sense to us to put those contingency layers in there because you just can't predict people's circumstances. Though they agree now to take the dogs, something could be going on in their life and they might not be capable of doing it when the time came.
Amy@GoPetFriendly Dec 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm
Good for you, Lori!
Amy@GoPetFriendly Dec 13, 2010 at 2:06 pm
You're welcome, Mel. I can't imagine a pet's confusion at loosing their best friend, caregiver, home, security, and possibly life all at once. It breaks my heart just thinking about it. Thanks for sharing!
Amy@GoPetFriendly Dec 13, 2010 at 2:04 pm
That's fantastic, Kelley - for you and your husband, AND your dogs!
Amy@GoPetFriendly Dec 13, 2010 at 2:03 pm
LOL! In my experience, guilt is a great motivator - and this isn't a guilt-free zone. :-D No, we can't guarantee love unless we can leave our pets to someone who already loves them. We're pretty lucky that way - despite their well-documented behavioral issues, Buster and Ty have some loyal fans.
Mary Haight Dec 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm
Great reminder! Especially having alternates to adopt your dog(s) should circumstances change for the first party, and updating, so important to ensure continued interest by people promising to take on the responsibility!
Lori @ According to Gus Dec 12, 2010 at 2:52 am
This is something we always say we need to do, but haven't yet. Thanks for the reminder. Gus is too important to us to not properly prepare in case something happens!
Melspetpals Dec 11, 2010 at 3:15 am
I am SO SO glad you wrote about this. I hadn't thought about the wording, but knowing how many pets I have seen at our shelter as the result of a death makes this one hugely important to me. Thank you! Sharing!
Kelley Denz Dec 11, 2010 at 2:44 am
It's interesting you should have this article today. My husband and I were talking about what would happen to our dogs if we were to die.

We decided to talk to an attorney next week and set up a living trust with a will included. It will be somewhat expensive but I think it's worth the cost. A living trust can also help with the taxes.
EdieJ Dec 11, 2010 at 2:32 am
Yes, I also told Clare, my BFF and executor, that she would go to hell if anything happened to Frankie, even though she's a very lapsed Catholic. You gotta work all angles.

Seriously, the complexity is a problem, I agree. But you can't guarantee love -- just care, right?
Amy@GoPetFriendly Dec 10, 2010 at 10:30 pm
You make a very good point, Edie. I was counting on fear that I would haunt them for the rest of their lives to keep Buster and Ty's possible guardians on the straight and narrow. :-D

I agree that a trust would protect the funds meant to care for the boys, but it seems to me they also add a layer of complexity for the caregiver - having to request funds from the trustee. And, that raises another dilemma - how about a person who keeps the pet - not because they love them - but because they are counting on a stream of funds from the trust? These are complicated issues.
Amy@GoPetFriendly Dec 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm
So true, Elizabeth! We have a dog like that - so I completely understand.
EdieJ Dec 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm
First off, let me say that this is a great topic to bring up. And your contingency plans going down the line from person #1 to #3 are excellent.

But -- you knew there was a but -- even though a trust is a pain I would recommend one if at all possible. That way there is a stronger protection against person #1 taking the money and not pass Ty and Buster along to good caretakers. I would like to believe the best in human nature but too many dogs end up in shelters because daughters, sons, mothers -- people you would assume would take care of a loved one's pets, not to mention honor their wishes -- took the money and dumped the pet.

My best friend is an attorney and also the executor of my will so we discussed her care of Frankie at length. I trust her implicitly -- but she also knew that setting up a trust -- which includes a sum of money for care -- is the best way to "trust but verify."
Elizabeth Dec 10, 2010 at 6:44 pm
It's especially difficult if you have a dog that isn't particularly popular with many/any other people. Fortunately the one that is "prickly" has one (but only one!) other person who appreciates her for what she is. You have made me think that I really need to get all this in writing though!
Shauna @ Fido & Wino Dec 10, 2010 at 5:57 pm
That is a really good idea- a tough subject, but an important one.
Michele Dec 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Thank you for this very important bit of information. Our pets are our children, and we don't want to leave them uncared for. I shudder to think of the alternatives.