When it comes to estate planning, people are regularly concerned with avoiding probate court, keeping property in the family, leaving funds to favorite charities or churches, and providing for spouses, children, and grandchildren. But what people frequently forget about is the other beloved members of the family – their pets. While technically considered personal property, pets are often very important to their owners. Yet frequently, when individuals pass away, they have neglected to make plans for what should happen to their animals.
There are various options available, however, for Oklahomans wishing to plan ahead. A pet owner can name a guardian for their pets in the will, similarly to naming guardians for minor children. It is a good idea, however, to speak to the named guardian ahead of time to ensure they are willing to take on the task. The named guardian can also be left funds with the intention that the funds be used for the pets’ care.
One can also grant someone a limited power of attorney for the sole purpose of caring for pets. This option is only useful so long as the pet owner remains alive, but may be useful in the event a pet owner faces a lengthy hospital stay, plans a long vacation, or must enter a nursing home.
Services and programs often exist that will take animals after owners pass away. However, many of these programs are already heavily burdened with pets in need of adoption and/or may require a significant monetary donation in order to take the animal in.
Oklahoma law also allows pet owners to create a trust for the care of a designated pet or animal. In creating such a document, a pet owner can name the designated individual or individuals (trustees) responsible for the care, provide for funds to be used in the pets’ care, provide for reasonable trustee fees and expenses, and allow the trustee to employ agents to assist in care of the animals. The trustee must ensure that the trust funds are only used as intended for the pets’ care. Pet owners can name a remainder beneficiary that is to receive funds once the animal or animals pass away. Depending on the total sum of money in the trust, regular accountings/reports may be required of the trust.
In short, pet owners should consider whether it is important to them to put plans in place for the care of their animals. Options are available, and in many cases, can provide critical peace of mind that pets will continue to be provided for when they are no longer able to do so.
Outhier & Caruthers, PLLC can help you with all varieties of estate planning, including planning for your pets. Please call us at 580-234-6300 to discuss your needs.