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Why your pets should be included in your estate plan

Many people these days are single or widowed and don't have any living family. Therefore, they see no reason to have an estate plan or even a simple will. They figure the courts will just sort things out. However, if you have pets, what will happen to them when you die?

Too many people don't give this any thought. Maybe they have friends whom they assume will take them. Perhaps they volunteer with a local rescue group that they trust will take them in and find good homes for them. However, you can never be sure of that. Too many animals needlessly end up in shelters every year because their people passed away and no one could or would take them in.

Even people with extensive estate plans may make no mention of their animals because they believe a family member will take care of them. Unless an estate plan directs otherwise, animals will go to a person's beneficiaries as part of their "property." If someone doesn't have a will, they will go to whomever the estate goes go under the law.

By setting up a pet trust, you can designate who will get your animals and leave that person a sum of money for the sole purpose of caring for them. You can provide some instructions for their care. You can also designate what should happen to any money left over from the trust when your last animal has passed away.

By codifying all of this in a trust, it is enforceable by the administrator of your estate. If that person believes that your designated pet caregiver isn't providing adequate care or is misusing the funds, he or she can take action.

If you don't have a person you trust enough to take in your critters, you may consider asking a rescue group to do that and leaving money to them. You can designate that they care for your animals for the rest of their lives or that they find good homes for them. Of course, discuss it with the person who runs the organization first to make sure that your wishes can be accommodated.

Pet trusts are becoming increasingly popular in estate planning. If you have any questions about how best to ensure that yours considers all potential eventualities, your Maryland estate planning attorney can help you.

Source: Milwaukee Community Journal, "What Happens to Your Pet When You Die–How to Plan for Them Now," June 05, 2018

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