Including the care of your pets in your estate planning helps ensure they’ll be cared for after you’re gone

By Kathleen Nemetz, Stratos Wealth Partners

When pet owners die, their morning greeters and best fur friends are treated as personal property under state and federal law.

Few pet owners understand the risks their animals could face, absent the proper paperwork: pets may be neglected and unfed, taken to a shelter, or worse, abandoned.

For this reason, please provide for the care of pets when completing estate planning.

A clause in your trust, or a standalone pet trust, can help protect your animals and possibly assure placement. Charities can help, particularly if you are making a gift donation as part of the request to place your animals. In choosing which documents to use to express your intent, do not rely on a will alone. Attorneys say only a trust can help assure prompt response to an animal’s needs (wills may need to be probated, and the probate process can take time. In the interim, the animal must be cared for).

Some people name a caretaker to care for their animals and leave money for this purpose. However, without a professional fiduciary, as may be provided by a trust, the caretaker may accept the gift and still surrender the animals to a shelter. The fiduciary can oversee an investment account to ensure that the financial advisor is generating the income and growth necessary to help pay costs for the animals placed. A pet trust document is necessary to open the investment account.

People choosing a caretaker route need to leave enough of a gift to address legacy care need, including often-expensive vet bills. Attorney Michael Menlove of Prescott Valley says it’s best not to rely on unwritten promises for animal care after death.

Under Arizona law, pet trusts can last up to 21 years. Life insurance proceeds may be used if the pet trust is named as a beneficiary. Money invested for an animal’s care can be paid to the caretaker via a fiduciary. Any unused sum can be distributed to the trust’s human heirs.

Alternatively, the Yavapai Humane Society offers a Pet Guardianship Program. Forms completed before the owner’s death assure that new homes will be found for pets.

United Animal Friends in Prescott also helps place animals and provides instructions in the Planned Giving Guidelines on their website (

To discuss this subject further, contact Stratos Wealth Partners at 928.460.5520 or

Securities offered through LPL Financial , member FINRA/SIPC.  Advice offered through Stratos Wealth Partners, a registered investment advisor and a separate entity from LPL Financial.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Stratos Wealth Partners and LPL Financial do not provide tax and legal advice or services. To determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you, contact the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a decision.

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