Today’s post combines both of those issues into a very interesting piece.
But before we get to that, let me step back a bit…
The personal finance blogging world is pretty small, especially if you attend the annual FinCon conventions (which I have for a few years — since I retired). So I know a lot of people.
But two of my favorites are Vicki Cook and Amy Blacklock. We (and several others) bonded at a FinCon many years ago and have connected at each FinCon since then. I’m hoping to see them this winter as well since they both spend cold-weather time in Florida.
Let me tell you a bit about their accomplishments.
Together they are the cofounders of the award-winning personal finance website Women Who Money. Combined they own five websites and are currently working together on number six.
Vicki is the founder and blogger behind Make Smarter Decisions. She’s been a regular contributor to GOBankingRates, Medi-Share, and a variety of personal finance sites around the web.
Amy is the founder and blogger behind the award-winning site Life Zemplified. She’s been a frequent contributor to GOBankingRates, Wealthfit, Medi-Share, and to a variety of personal finance sites around the web.
Each in her own right is amazing and accomplished but then you put them together and a lot of good stuff happens.
One of those things is their new book, Estate Planning 101.
I know, it’s not the most popular topic in personal finance circles, but it is a very important one, as I’ve seen first hand recently with the passing of my mom.
They sent me and advanced copy, I looked it over, and selected a couple sections I wanted to excerpt for ESI Money. That’s the post we have today.
Estate Planning for a Cat
Since we got Zeus (official name “His Royal Catness the Loyal and Brave Zeus Le Mew”) or as we call him much of the time, “baby”, after we did our estate plans, he is not included in it. (FYI, if you want to see some cute pictures of Zeus, you can check out my Instagram account).
Our unofficial plan is that our daughter would take him back, since we originally got him from her. Plus he knows my daughter and son-in-law well as they are over at our house often.
But I wanted to know more on the subject and I know many readers have pets as well. So I selected this section of the book which is titled “Planning for Your Pets”.
Before we get started, the lawyers are making me say that the following is excerpted from Estate Planning 101 by Vicki Cook and Amy Blacklock. Copyright © 2021 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher, Adams Media, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
Once you’ve read this excerpt, please leave your thoughts in the comments below as to how you’re handling care for your pets in your estate plan.
With that said, enjoy this portion of the book…
Caring for Fido When You’re Gone
Creating an estate plan protects you and provides for those who matter most. But an often-overlooked family member in estate planning is the family pet or pets. Few pet owners make arrangements for their pets who may outlive them.
You might have talked informally with family or friends about who would care for Fido or Whiskers if something happened to you. But there are steps you can take to support your pet and their new caregiver.
Our pets provide unconditional love, but they also depend on our care. So, it’s important to be proactive and think about how you want your pet to be taken care of and who can provide that care. Don’t forget about planning how to pay for your pet’s expenses too.
Consider Your Pet’s Future Care
You know how to best care for your pet. That’s why you should leave a written pet care plan or letter of instruction for a future caregiver. The plan should include typical daily routines for feeding (including food brand and amount), exercise, grooming, play, and sleep. Don’t forget to share details about how well your pet gets along with other animals and children, as well as any behavioral challenges.
Intestate Laws Apply to Pets Too
If you haven’t made plans for your pet and you die without a will, your state’s intestate succession laws determine who gets your pet. A relative may agree to it (even if they can’t afford it), but it might not be who you would have chosen.
You should also provide your veterinarian’s contact information and consent for the caregiver to authorize treatment for your pet. While the caregiver will make the final decisions, you can also include your wishes regarding a severe illness or injury and final arrangements for your pet.
If you have more than one pet, each should have an individual care plan. You can give a copy of the plans to your relatives or friends who may serve as caregivers, along with your attorney and veterinarian.
Determine Possible Pet Guardians
You may have someone in mind to care for your pet when you no longer can, but make sure the person agrees to take on the responsibility for your pet. You can share the pet care plan you created and see if it raises any red flags with the potential guardian. It’s essential to have more than one potential caregiver if someone is unable or unwilling to care for your pet.
If you have no family members or friends to fill this role, you can contact your local humane society and ask if they rehome pets for someone who has passed away.
Calculate Annual Pet Expenses
To provide financial support for your pet and its caregiver, you need to figure out how much you spend on your pet yearly. Your estimate should include food, veterinary care, medications, grooming, and boarding costs. You may have other pet expenses, including treats and toys, training classes, or pet daycare.
By knowing the annual expenses and your pet’s life expectancy, you can determine how much money you want to provide to fund your pet’s care. To avoid challenges by your heirs, make sure the amount of money you leave for your pet’s care is reasonable.
If You Have a Rescue
You might need to follow a rescue organization’s guidelines for creating a pet care plan if you adopted your pet. Some organizations have restrictions on caregivers and where pets can go when you can no longer provide care.
FORMALIZING YOUR PLAN
By completing the previous steps, you’ve already made progress in terms of safeguarding your pet’s future. Even if you decide an informal agreement is all that’s needed, your pet’s caretaker will appreciate the information compiled about your pet. But some people prefer creating a legally enforceable agreement to help ensure others follow their wishes.
There are several ways to accomplish this, such as accounting for your pet in your will, including pet provisions in your living trust, or establishing a freestanding pet trust.
Including Your Pet in Your Will
Like other property in your will, you can specify a beneficiary to take ownership of your pet and money for the beneficiary to care for your pet. You can also name alternate beneficiaries or organizations to care for your pet and leave money for them.
But keep in mind that the pet’s guardian isn’t usually accountable for spending the money as you directed. Will assets for pet care can only be used upon your death; they don’t apply for incapacitation cases.
Adding Pet Provisions to a Comprehensive Living Trust
With a living trust, you can add a provision identifying your pet’s caretaker and how you’ll fund your pet’s care. You can also name an alternate caretaker or organization.
This option’s downsides are that your pet’s caretaker may not use the funds as you directed. They also aren’t able to access more money to care for your pet if needed.
Creating a Stand-Alone Pet Trust
This type of trust is more complex and usually costs more to create, but it’s established explicitly for your pet and their care. Since you make this outside of your will, it’s useful if you’re incapacitated.
You’ll need a trustee to administer a pet trust, and while it may be the pet’s caretaker, you can also name someone else as the trustee. The trustee will then be in charge of providing funds to the pet’s guardian.
After your pet dies, your trust will also direct where any remaining funds go. You may decide to give your pet’s caretaker money or direct it to an animal-focused charity.