Leave a Dog a Bone

Something that not a lot of people think about, even very serious animal lovers, is what happens to your pet after you pass away? As with most estate planning issues, the answer is: it is up to you. If you do nothing, a pet is considered under Wisconsin law to be personal property, and would be treated like a piece of furniture or that antique clock that everyone has their eye on. In some cases, there is a beneficiary willing to adopt your pet, or find a good home. In other cases, there is not. When that occurs, pets often are shuttled to an animal shelter, where they sometimes find a good home.

An example we love to use when discussing estate planning for pets, is that of real estate and hotel tycoon, Leona Helmsley, who famously left $12 million dollars to her dog, Trouble. Even if you don’t have $12 million dollars, but you love your pets like family, how do you plan for them? There are several options, but the two most common are to set up a “pet trust” or to specifically discuss your pet in your will. The first option is more complex, but it also gives one the assurance of exactly what a trustee of a pet trust is allowed to do for the lifetime of a pet. A pet trust is also a private document that does not get filed with the register in probate, so it never becomes public knowledge. It also avoids your pet ever becoming a piece of personal property subject to distribution.

The simpler option is to either bequeath your pet to a specific person (hopefully you know ahead of time that the person wants your pet), or direct your personal representative to take special steps in regards to the care and maintenance of your pet. Keep your pets in mind when you do your estate planning. I’m sure they will appreciate it!