Welcome to BarkYours Spotlight


September 22, 2020

By Peggy Hoyt, Board Certified Specialist with the Florida Bar in both Wills, Trusts and Estates and Elder Law,  the host of the weekly “Pawcast”, All My Children Wear Fur Coats, founder/CEO of Animal Care Trust, USA & seller on BarkYours (find her book “All My Children Wear Fur Coats” )here

More information about Peggy can be found below.  

Estate planning that includes your four-legged loved ones (your loved pets) can be just as challenging as planning for your two-legged loved ones (your loved kids). As a result, most Americans have done no planning at all. However, “hope is not a plan” so how do you create an estate plan for yourself that also includes a plan for your pets?

First, consider gathering all the information you have for your pet and create a notebook that details all of your pet’s important information, including name, description (including picture), age, health, special instructions for care, veterinary information, short term Pet Caregivers, etc. This way, if the information is needed in any kind of emergency, the notebook is always up to date with critical information.

Next, you want to consider what would happen to your pets in the event of your disability or a natural disaster. What if a hurricane forces you from your home and you are unable to take your pets with you? What if you have to go to the hospital or a nursing home for an extended stay? Is there someone ready, willing and able who has access to your home and can step into your shoes on a short-term basis until a permanent home can be found?

In the event of your death, you might ask, “Should I have a Last Will or a Living Trust?” The typical lawyer answer is, “It depends.” It depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is what you want to accomplish with your estate plan.

When planning for your pets there are lots of questions you will want to consider as you get started.  How many pets do you have? What types of pets do you have? Do any of your pets have unique care requirements (ie. health concerns, unusual behaviors, etc.) that require special planning? Where do you want your pets to live if you become disabled or die – at your home, with a friend, a loved one or a foster family, or maybe your pet would do best at a sanctuary? What financial resources will you provide to ensure your pets are well taken care of? How should your pet be cared for in the event of a chronic or critical illness? When your pet dies, what are your wishes regarding your pet’s final disposition?

No two pet owners will have the same planning goals for their pets.  Your ultimate goals may determine the type of plan you create for your pets. I want my pets to stay in my home with a Pet Caregiver who move into my home and live on the premises.  You may be comfortable with a new forever home for your pets, either an individual or a family.  Or, you may prefer a sanctuary environment for your pets where they live among other loved pets. Ultimately, the choice is yours. Just be sure to carefully document your wishes as part of your personal estate plan.

Your personal estate plan should not be independent of a plan for your pets.  You’ll want to plan for your disability, making sure your plan includes a Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Decisions that includes pet care provisions, a Health Care Power of Attorney, and Living Will. You may also want a Veterinary Power of Attorney. When planning for your death, you’ll need to decide whether a Last Will or a Living Trust and Pour Over Will fits your needs best.  I recommend working with a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney.

The first step in planning for your pets, goes beyond the legal design of your plan.  You will need to identify those persons or organizations (Pet Caregivers) that will have physical custody of your pets, both on a short-term basis and on a forever basis. Next, you will want to select the persons or organizations that will make sure both your money and your pets have proper oversight (Pet Trustee).  Selecting your Pet Caregivers and your Pet Trustee takes time and consideration. You may have friends or family you trust or you may need or want to rely on professionals.  Animal Care Trust USA can help you identify Pet Caregivers and can act as Pet Trustee for your loved pet.

One thing you should never do is assume your family or friends will be willing to provide lifetime care for your pets.  The sad reality is more than 500,000 loved pets are euthanized annually because their pet parent died or became disabled without a plan to ensure the care and safety of their loved pets.  I can think of nothing worse than my loved pets ending up in a shelter where there are scared, sad and alone.

You will also want to consider how much money to leave for the lifetime care of your pets. If your pets are staying at home, then you will have the added expense of maintaining the property and the home. In all cases, you will want to make sure you provide sufficient resources for the lifetime care of your pets.  How much money is enough?  Only you can answer that question.

First, consider how much you spend to care for your pets now. Then, assume they will live for an extraordinary amount of time.  Do the math and then add a bit more as an extra cushion in the event of a catastrophic illness.  Life insurance and retirement plans can be ideal assets for creating the resources necessary for lifetime pet care.

There are lots of choices when planning for pets. Some people will use a Last Will to make a specific gift of their pet to a named Pet Caregiver.  Some will also leave a sum of money to the Pet Caregiver to help defray the cost of pet care. This choice has the greatest risk; your Last Will requires probate that can cause delays and there is no way to ensure the funds are being used for the proper care of your pet.

A Pet Trust is your best option to ensure your loved pet stays in a loving home and receives the care you intend. You can create a standalone Pet Trust or create a Pet Trust as part of a Living Trust (a standby Pet Trust).  A Pet Trust provides your loved pet with the structure and oversight necessary for proper lifetime care.  In the event of your disability or at the time of your death, your successor Trustee should have immediate access to both your resources and your instructions for the lifetime care of your pets.

If you create a Pet Trust, selecting a successor Trustee to manage the money for your pets will be a critical part of your plan. Your successor Trustee has the responsibility to make sure your wishes for the care of your pets and the distribution of your money for that care are followed. Your best choice is a professional Trustee such as a trust company or charity qualified to act as Trustee.  Animal Care Trust USA is the nation’s only charity dedicated to acting as trustee for Pet Trusts. You can get more information at ACT4Pets.org

On a mission to protect your pet’s life? Read “All My Children Wear Fur Coats – How to Leave a Legacy for Your Pet”, your handbook for creating a Pet Trust.  You will find important information including a sample Pet Profile, checklists for selecting Pet Caregivers, successor Trustees and leaving a lasting legacy. You can order a copy from BarkYours or at LegacyForYourPet.com.

Peggy R. Hoyt, J.D., M.B.A., B.C.S., is a Board Certified Specialist with the Florida Bar in both Wills, Trusts and Estates and Elder Law. She is a founding partner of The Law Offices of Hoyt & Bryan, the host of the weekly “Pawcast”, All My Children Wear Fur Coats and founder/CEO of Animal Care Trust, USA, a not for profit organization whose mission is to keep loved pets in loving homes.