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Estate planning for pets

Pet care is a lifetime responsibility that does not end with the death of their owners. The Humane Society, however, claims that 100,000 are left homeless each year after their owners died. Planning and the creation of well-drafted trusts helps assure that a trusted family member or friend will care for pets and can prevent the situations where pets were sent to shelters or even euthanized.

Using a basic trust model, the owner may name a new caregiver for the pet who assumes this responsibility after the owner's death. The plan should also contain detailed care instructions and set aside money to continue to pay for ongoing expenses.

Naming a qualified and dependable plan trustee is important. That person is responsible for allocating trust funds for veterinary care, food, medicine, grooming and any other needs. The trust can also authorize the trustee to pay benefits to the pet's caregiver.

Along with the trust plan, the owner should prepare a letter of final wishes. This letter identifies a person who takes immediate responsibility for the pet. That person can be the same caregiver named in the trust plan.

It is also important that pet owners name an alternate if the intended caregiver is unable or does not want to care for the pet. The trustee should also have the authority to name a substitute of any of the named caregivers are unable or incapable of caring for the animal.

A pet owner can also amend their revocable trust if their pet dies before them. They may change the trust to add any new pets or remove the pet trust terms.

An attorney can help draft a valid will and estate documents that comply with Michigan law which cover pet care, designate property distribution and address other matters. Experienced lawyers have the expertise to help assure that a testator's wishes are carried out after their death.

Source:, "Even your goldfish needs an estate plan," By Brian O'Connell, March 6, 2018

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