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Do you need to include your pet in your estate plan?

Pets are a strange gray area when it comes to estate planning. While you may not think of your dog as property, thinking of him as part of the family, he is legally another piece of property that you own. It means that you may want to include the pet as a part of your estate plan to ensure that your wishes are followed and that someone else is able to care for the pet if you pass away first.

For instance, you may want to leave your dog to an adult child, but you don't want to stick that child with all of the costs, making the pet more of a burden than anything else. You may consider creating a trust that can be used to pay for food, shots, vet bills, and the like. You could even add extra money in case there is an emergency.

It can also help to legally write out who the pet will live with and how the transition will take place. People often make promises or vows that are informal and not legally binding. Your best friend swears she will take care of the dog or your son agrees to let it come live with him.

However, not adding this to your estate plan means it could fall through. There are a lot of reasons that people suddenly realize they can't hold up their end of the bargain. Maybe someone in the family is allergic, maybe the apartment they live in doesn't allow pets, or maybe they spend two weeks with the dog and just don't like the responsibility. Having a binding document and a pet trust can help to overcome some of this.

As you do your estate planning, remember that pets are more than property. They're part of your family, and your estate plan can help give them a long, happy life.

Source: American Bar Association, "Estate Planning Issues Involving Pets," Rachel Hirschfeld, accessed March 24, 2017

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