Estate Planning for Pets is a serious business.This useful guest ost is by Sass MacConney who has experience being an Executor and writes about being an ‘Executor in charge of a pet‘. This is important reading for all of us – even if it’s a bit of a long read – please, one day it may be you with a pal’s life in your hands. If you have ANY QUESTIONS – let us know.
This post was inspired by a cat that was dumped at a shelter after the owner died; the Executor of the Estate made some poor judgement calls concerning this placement of this animal, and didn’t do a very good job of covering themselves, either.
Being chosen to be an estate Executor is not always a great honor. More often than not, it’s a royal pain in the butt, and frequently, families suffering through times of grief do not always make the wisest decisions as to the disposition of the property of the deceased.
- It is my experience and belief, that part of the duty in being an Estate Executor lies not only in covering your own butt in ways that might appear to be excessive, but also in making the deceased, as well as the rest of the family, look good. Or at least as good as you possibly can. OK. let’s make what could be a long discussion, a little shorter, and imagine that you’ve been appointed, either by the deceased or by the Probate Court, as the Executor of an Estate.
Having been chosen to serve, and having agreed to serve, as the Executor of the Estate, that means you are now legally on the hook to the Probate Court for the correct settlement of the Estate. If you make a mistake, it’s your hind end…same as it is as if you were running your own business, difference is that the Business (or civil) Court differs from the proceedings of Probate Court.
How to start Estate Planning for Pets
To begin, all property (animal, mineral, material or vegetable) of the decedent becomes property of the Estate, once the deceased passes away. Now, assuming that you’re an Executor that made a mistake in disposing of property, be that mistake ethical, procedural, legal, etc., there is a risk that the Estate could wind up not settling in a timely fashion while the Executor’s mistake is investigated. Can’t you see Great Aunt Edna protesting the disposition of Uncle Charles’ cat at the animal shelter – and Estate proceedings grinding to a halt while this gets discussed? Or worse? Long story short, no one wants that. Probate is expensive.
So, here’s what you do when you have an estate on your hands with a pet that hasn’t been provided for adequately, or at all. You’re dealing with the Estate.
You either adopt the animal yourself or you find a private rescue that has their act together.
You, as the Executor, make sure it’s understood by the private rescue, that the private rescue, in exchange for monetary consideration, (which is chargeable back to the Estate), agrees to quietly list the reason for surrender as ‘owner deceased’ and leave it at that.
As a smart Executor, you provide a copy of veterinary records to the rescue,
with all the names, addresses, etc. blanked out.
- IMPORTANT The last thing you want is for the rescue to have to call the vet directly, get the records faxed over, and for the name and address to be all over the records, with you as the Executor having no way of knowing how conscientious the rescue is with their files.
Some rescues are not good at confidentiality and record-keeping (although they like to say they are, but I myself have adopted animals out of a shelter and have been handed full files without names or addresses redacted, so I know confidentiality breaches happen in shelters); why take the chance?
Make it clear to the rescue, also, that there will be no releasing of names, etc..that are traceable back to the Estate. There are a LOT of whack jobs out there; and ID theft of you, or ID theft of the dead is something you don’t want to have to worry about on top of setting the Estate as quickly as possible while you’re grieving the loss of the dearly departed.
Remember, Estate proceedings are public record in a lot of places
The last thing you want is some yahoo looking through the Estate paperwork at the courthouse looking for juicy details.
Remember too, many shelters and rescues make do with what volunteers they can get, and you as someone who is there to surrender an animal have no idea who these people are or where the shelter/rescue found them. So, be smart, and cover your own hind end in this situation and don’t rely on the rescue/shelter to do it for you.
- If the Estate has the money, than putting the cat in a foster or retirement home that caters exactly to this sort of situation is certainly an option as well. They’re a little more versed in the way of the land, confidentiality, etc., than your average shelter is going to be.
However, I understand that the fees for this climb into the tens of thousands of dollars, and not every estate has that kind of money at its disposal. This could also grind the Estate proceedings to a halt, due to the money involved, but, it makes you, the Executor, look as if you’re at least *trying* to do the ethical thing for all the of the parties left behind, particularly those who cannot speak for themselves.
That-all said, what you don’t do is march into an animal shelter/ animal rescue that uses social media in a manipulative fashion (do your homework on this first!), and just dump the pet there and walk out the door..especially not with your name, and the decedents’ name all over the surrender and veterinary paperwork–because you never know how that shelter is going to use that information..which they have the right to do unless you’ve made other arrangements first.
- Imagine the brouhaha if Great Aunt Edna happened to come across a Facebook post that was worded in exactly the wrong way and wanted to cause trouble in Probate Court.
Long story short, be smart and think of both yourself, the Estate and the rest of the family, before you commit an action upon an animal – particularly if you are the Executor of an estate. Not doing so could come back to bite you in the butt in ways you never thought of.
Sass MacConney is a cat owner, former estate administrator, and the owner of Live Love Meow LLC, a cats-only pet supply company.