You may have read the post I wrote about Michigan Pet Trusts.  If not, you can read it by clicking here. If you care about your pets, it is a must read.  Almost every pet owner I meet truly cares for their pets.  Yet very few (and I mean VERY few) have any planning in place to ensure that their beloved “child with a fur coat” will be cared for if something happens to them.  The alternative is not pretty – suffice it to say that what happens to a lot of animals whose caregivers didn’t plan is…well, less than ideal.  The statistics are staggering.

A good friend of mine recently directed me to this USA Today article about estate planning for pets.  Overall I think the article is good . . . if for no other reason than it raises awareness of the need for estate planning for pets.  I will not “rehash” the entire article here, so make sure to read it for yourself.  I will, however, provide my thoughts on some of points in the article:

  • Some may scoff at the Leona Helmsley story – how much she gave to care for her dog and to animal humane groups.  Keep in mind that each of our situations is unique . . . we each have different things that are important to us in differing ways.  From the stories I read, Ms. Helmsley’s children may have left something to be desired.  It could be that her dog, Trouble, provided her the companion and love she needed . . . even moreso than family.
  • Always keep in mind the source of information (even the author you’re reading right now!).  Ms. Hirschfeld’s Pet Protection Agreement provided by Legal Zoom is mentioned several times in the article.  I have no doubt that she knows what she is talking about . . . just keep in mind that it’s more than likely that she receives a “cut” from the  sale of Pet Protection Agreements.  Interestingly, I looked at the Legal Zoom page for the agreement and noted a quote by the President of The Humane Society of the United States regarding peace of mind from having the Pet Protection Agreement.  Much like estate planning for your human family, I believe much of the “peace of mind” provided by online solutions is a false peace of mind.  Why?  Because you don’t know what you don’t know.  I’m the same way.  Why do I not perform my own surgery?  Fix my own roof?  Install my own furnace?  Because I don’t know how and even with a lot of study there are still things I won’t know because they only come from experience.  Plan how you feel best, but my suggestion for true peace of mind is to work with an attorney who focuses on pet planning.  And yes, I realize that you should consider the source when reading that last statement too 🙂
  • The author points out that Ms. Helmsley likely could afford “pretty decent lawyers.”  That doesn’t mean, however, that those lawyers had any experience with estate planning for pets.  Keep that in mind when planning for your own pets.  If you have to ask about how to plan for your pets rather than having the lawyer include it in their questionnaire or bring it up in a meeting, that should be a sign to you.
  • I see a multi-pronged approach as the most likely to ensure your pets are cared for by who and in the way you want: a pet trust, pet information sheet, pet care instructions and having conversations regarding care with those you would choose to care for your pet while you can have the conversation.
  • Much like planning for your human family, estate planning for pets is a process, not a transaction.  Your life will change, your pets may change, the lives of the chosen caregivers will change and the laws will change.  If your planning doesn’t change with it, it may not work the way you wanted when it is needed most.

What do you think?  I always enjoy hearing from my blog readers.  And don’t forget to call us today at 616-827-7596 to help make sure your pets won’t be “left out in the cold” (or worse!) if something happens to you.

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned business succession and pet planning – and he is privileged to do so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.