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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Estate Planning for Your Animals: Beyond Just Cats and Dogs - Legacy Assurance Plan

Anyone who has (or has had) animal companions in their lives know the important role these creatures play in the lives of their human companions. In the past, a person might have a cherished animal companion euthanized and buried with him or her. Today, as we have come to recognize such notions to be cruel and inhumane, there is a greater emphasis on ensuring the continued care of your beloved "critters" if they outlive you. This type of planning is especially important if your animals are not just house pets.  

One such scenario where this is true involves horses. Whether your horses are expensive Arabians or just working members of your family farm, ensuring their continued care is important, as re-homing horses is often more difficult than re-homing cats and dogs. As with any type of estate planning, advance thought and communication are key. By engaging in advance planning and discussions with your loved ones, you can identify who is best suited to take over not just your farmland, but also care for your animals on that farm, too.


It is extremely vital, if you are in this situation, to make certain you do not procrastinate creating a plan. With no plan, all of your property will transfer according to your state's laws for people with no estate plans ("intestacy laws.") These laws make put your animals in the hands of someone who has no interest in maintaining their care, or alternately may distribute them to someone without the means, the knowledge or otherwise lacking the resources to provide for their care. If you have someone with the desire and the resources to provide for them, it is essential that you create a plan that gets that distribution on paper in a legal document.

Other families may have even more challenging situations, as there may be no trusted loved one with the ability and desire to take your animals. When that happens, you can still plan to provide for your animals' care. Several universities' colleges of veterinary medicine, such as Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Purdue, among others, have programs that offer animals the opportunity to be cared for after you're gone. These programs often require a one-time gift in order to gain entry. Your estate plan can provide for both the transfer of legal ownership of your animals to the schools, but also cover the necessary payment to cover their admission. In addition to some veterinary colleges, some SCPA organizations also have programs. 

Many states recognize special types of trusts to cover the continued care of animals. Even if your state does not have specific "pet trusts," you can still plan for them. By working with an experienced estate planning team, you can be confident that your animals will enjoy the same level of care you've provided for them, even after you're gone.

Summary: Estate planning for your animals is important in any situation, but it is particularly so if you have animals such as horses that are not just house pets. The range of people who have the resources to provide these animals with proper homes is smaller, meaning that you should take care to have a plan in place that will ensure that the home you provide for your animals after your death is one that is up to your standards.