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What plans should you make for your pet after your death?

Over the past few weeks, we've addressed some of the steps you can take for yourself and your family regarding estate planning. But what steps can you take to ensure your pets are cared for if you are incapacitated or pass away? It might seem like a silly question to some, but for those with pets, this can be a very real concern.

There are two aspects of pet care in such situations: the immediate needs and the ongoing needs. You might consider preparing signs or documents that offer simple instructions for caring for a pet in the immediate aftermath of a medical condition or death. For example, you could label the pet's food and medicine and leave instructions for care in an easy to find location. Always let neighbors or close family and friends know that you do have a pet; if anything happens to you, they will know to check on your pet.

Next, you might consider estate planning as a way to handle ongoing needs for a pet. After speaking to willing family members, you could leave instructions in your will for the care of your pet. If you're worried about expenses for your pet, you can even create a small trust that funds the care of your pet and helps someone pay for food, lodging and medical expenses. By making conditional gifts via a trust to a person, you help ensure those funds will be used to care for your pet.

As with any legal estate matter, documenting your wishes for your pet in a manner that helps ensure they are followed can be complicated. Working with an estate law professional helps you create strong documents that will stand up in court, whether those documents concern yourself, your heirs or your pet.

Source: Doctors Foster and Smith Pet Education, "Estate Planning for Non-Human Family Members," Gerry W. Beyer, accessed Dec. 18, 2015

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