Estate Planning for Our Pets

A complete estate plan should address what happens to your pets when you are unable to care for them.
A complete estate plan should address what happens to your pets when you are unable to care for them.

Many people laugh when they hear about estate planning for pets. They think of outrageous stories of a dog or cat being left millions in a trust. But have you ever considered what would happen to your pets if you were not around to take care of them?

It’s easy to assume that someone will step in to care for your pets after you pass away, but the reality is, unless you have made arrangements ahead of time, your pet could be released onto the streets, dropped off at the shelter, neglected, or euthanized. In the best of circumstances, your pets might not get the special care they need if you have not left behind instructions regarding their special food, medications, and other details that would help someone care for your pet the way you would have.

The simplest way to make sure your pet will be cared for after you’re gone is to talk to one or two people to get their commitment to either take your pet into their home or find a good home for your pet. You can then include a short paragraph in your Will or living trust stating who should get custody of your pet. You can even leave the person who agrees to take your pet a small sum of money as a token of your appreciation.

If you are unable to find a person to agree to take your pet, there are organizations dedicated to the care of pets in exchange for a monetary gift to the institution. These organizations usually require that you make arrangements for the pet’s care during your lifetime. Your estate planning attorney should be able to give you more information regarding the organizations that offer these services.

Pet trusts are becoming more and more popular as a vehicle for providing the funds to care for pets after an owner’s death. If you want to leave money for the care of your pets after you are gone, a pet trust will make sure that the funds are spent on your pet and not used for other purposes.

You also need to consider what happens if you are alive, but unable to care for your pet due to a disability or incapacity. That’s why you should include provisions in your power of attorney allowing your agent to make arrangements for the care of your pet when you’re unable to do so, yourself. Your power of attorney should also allow your agent to expend funds for the care of your pets.

In any event, you should compile a set of instructions for your pet’s caretaker to follow. If your pet needs to be fed a certain type of food at precise times of day, prefers a special toy, has a specific bedtime or needs to be walked three times a day in a specific park near your home, you can include all this information in the instructions.

Many of us consider our pets as are part of our families. As such they need to be included in our estate plan, along with everything else we treasure.

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

 

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Your Children Want You to Have an Estate Plan

Clients often forget that a solid estate plan makes things much easier for their kids. Even the kids want you to have an estate plan!

Many clients delay creating an estate plan.  People don’t want to think about scenarios where they are deceased or incapacitated, and some people delay because they are afraid of costs.  Clients often think of the impact of estate planning on themselves, forgetting that their children want them to have an estate plan too.

After all, it is the adult children who are in charge of aging parents when they need long term care. They are also the ones who settle estates when parents die. Even if they can’t always come out and tell you, the recent article, “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan” from the Times Herald-Record spells out exactly why an elder law estate plan is so important for your loved ones.

Avoid court proceedings while living. In a perfect world, everyone over age 18 will have a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will, as well as other estate planning documents to facilitate their use.  These documents appoint others to make financial, legal, and medical decisions, in case of incapacity. Without them, the children will have to get involved with time-consuming, expensive guardianship proceedings, where a judge appoints a legal guardian to make these decisions. Your life is turned over to a court-appointed guardian, instead of your children or another person of your choosing.  This is an expensive and invasive process.

Avoid court proceedings after you die. If you die and you own assets in your own name that do not pass by contract, you will likely go through the probate process, a court proceeding that can be time consuming and costly. Not having any assets in trusts leaves your kids open to out of pocket costs, time, work and difficulty in gathering assets.

Wills in probate court are public documents. Trusts are private documents. Utilizing trusts can keep the details of your estate out of the public eye.

An elder law estate plan also plans for the possibility of long term care and costs. Nursing home care costs can be extreme, and many clients don’t plan for such a creditor during their life time. If you don’t have long term care insurance, you should consider an estate plan that facilitates long term care government benefits, such as a revocable trust plan.

The “elder law power of attorney” has unlimited gifting powers that could save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing homes. This can be done on the eve of needing nursing home care, but it is always better to do this planning in advance.  This is one of the main roadblocks to Medicaid planning later in life.  Client’s don’t update their powers of attorney and limited their gifting options.

Having a plan in place decreases stress and anxiety for adult children. They are likely busy with their own lives, working, caring for their children and coping in a challenging world. When a plan is in place, they don’t have to start learning about Medicaid law, navigating their way through the court system, or wondering why their parents did not take advantage of the time they had to plan properly.

You probably don’t want your children remembering you as the parents who left a financial and legal mess behind for the them to clean up. Speak with an elder law estate planning attorney to create a plan for your future. Your children will appreciate it.

And kids, see here for speaking with your parents about estate planning.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/probate-lawyers-say-talk-to-your-parents-about-estate-planning/

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 23, 2020) “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan”

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Twelve Reasons to Update your Estate Plan

Clients know they are supposed to review their estate plans, but don’t know when to do it. Here are twelve times when it makes sense to review your plan.

Estate planning lawyers hear it all the time—people meaning to update their estate plan, but somehow never getting around to actually getting it done. The only group larger than the ones who mean to “someday,” are the ones who don’t think they ever need to update their documents, says the article “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” from Kiplinger. The problems become abundantly clear when people die, and survivors learn that their will or trust is so out-of-date that it creates a world of problems for a grieving family.  For the purposes of this article I’ll focus on property planning, meaning wills and trusts, but there are lots of other reasons to review and update your entire estate plan.

There are some wills and trusts that do stand the test of time, but they are far and few between. An obvious example is that some people shift from wills to trusts as their primary estate planning vehicle.  Families also undergo all kinds of changes, and those changes should be reflected in the will or trust. Here are twelve times in life when wills and trusts need to be reviewed:

Welcoming a child to the family. The focus is on naming a guardian and a trustee to oversee their finances. The will and trust should be flexible to accommodate additional children in the future.  In some cases, a new child may disrupt the estate plan if no provisions are made for them.

Divorce is a possibility. Don’t wait until the divorce is underway to make changes. Do it beforehand. If you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse will have marital rights to your property. Once you file for divorce, in many states you are not permitted to change your estate plan, until the divorce is finalized. Make no moves here, however, without the advice of your attorney.

Your divorce has been finalized. If you didn’t do it before, update your estate plan now. Don’t neglect updating beneficiaries on life insurance and any other accounts that may have named your ex as a beneficiary.

When your child(ren) marry. You may be able to mitigate the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating trusts for your beneficiary, so anything you leave your child will be protected in the case of their divorce.

Your beneficiary has problems with drugs or money. Money left directly to a beneficiary is at risk of being attached by creditors or dissolving into a drug habit. Updating your estate plan to includes trusts that allow a trustee to only distribute funds under optimal circumstances protects your beneficiary and their inheritance for both themselves and for later beneficiaries.

Named executor, trustee or beneficiary dies. Your old will or trust may have a contingency plan for what should happen if a beneficiary, executor or trustee dies, but you should probably revisit the plan. Many times, clients have one answer for what happens if a fiduciary or beneficiary die while it is hypothetical, but feel differently once it happens.  If a named executor or trustee dies and you don’t update the estate plan, then what happens if the second dies?

A young family member grows up. Most people name a parent as their executor or trustee, then a spouse or trusted sibling. Two or three decades go by. An adult child may now be ready to take on the task of handling your estate.  This is one of the most obvious and common reasons for a younger client to update their estate plan.

New laws go into effect. In recent months, there have been many big changes to the law that impact estate planning, from the SECURE Act to the CARES act. Ask your estate planning attorney every few years, if there have been new laws that are relevant to your estate plan.  It is also a great idea to subscribe to legal blogs (like this one) to stay up to date on changes.

An inheritance, windfall or downfall. If you come into a significant amount of money, your tax liability changes. You’ll want to update your will, so you can do efficient tax planning as part of your estate plan.

Can’t find your will and/or trust? If you can’t find the original documents, especially with the will, then you need new documents. Copies of wills may only be probated with extra steps, so it is far better to redo the documents which will also serve to update it legally.

Buying property in another country or moving to another country. Some countries have reciprocity with America. However, transferring property to an heir in one country may be delayed, if the will needs to be probated in another country. Ask your estate planning attorney, if you need wills for each country in which you own property.  It is also worth considering changes if you acquire real property in a new state which may require probating in two states.

Family and friends are enemies. Friends have no rights when it comes to your estate plan. If you suspect that your family may push back to any bequests to friends, consider adding a “No Contest” clause to disinherit family members who try to elbow your friends out of the estate.

In all cases, it is important to review your estate plan every few years, but looking for these reasons to update our estate plan will help.  Changing your estate plan is also not as involved as one might think.  Changes to wills often require a new will, changes to trusts take a variety of forms (see here https://www.galliganmanning.com/amending-a-trust-what-are-your-options/) but are often not very involved.

If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan recently or need assistance with a review or updates, please call our office today.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

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