Often, pet owners consider their pets to not just be their most valuable possessions but to be members of their family. Those who own pets want to do all they can to care for their animals, so it is important to consider what may happen if your pet outlives you and to have a plan in place for this possibility. Here are some options for your estate plan to make sure your pet will be well cared for in the event that you pass away:

Animals in the Eyes of Law

Animals are considered personal property – like a car, jewelry, and other material possessions – under the law. If the person who owns a pet does not have an estate plan, their pet will be distributed to their “heirs-at-law” or to the people who are their closest living relatives according to a genealogical chart. If this person does have an estate plan, their pet will still be distributed to the individual set to inherit their personal property unless there is a specific provision regarding their pet in the estate plan. In cases where beneficiaries or heirs of someone’s estate do not wish to take care of the pet, people often end up surrendering the pet to a shelter.

In the last post, I shared several reasons people often have for not including a charitable bequest in their estate plan. Here are five more reasons people may have for not including this as part of their estate plan along with reasons why a charitable bequest might be a better option than one may realize:

If the organization dissolves, so will my money. Although there is no way to know where any organization or person will be in a decade or several decades, there are options if you are worried that your favorite organization may not still exist in the future. These options include directing your bequest to go to an alternate organization if your first organization is no longer around or to have your bequest go to a general cause.

My children come first. It is important to make sure your children are taken care of. If possible, consider leaving only a portion of your estate to charitable causes. Doing so ensures that your children are provided for and also communicates a powerful statement about your charitable values.

According to a number of surveys, about 60% of Americans give to charity annually. However, less than 10% of wills and estate plans include a charitable bequest. Here are some common reasons people may have for not including a charitable bequest in their estate plan as well as why making this a part of your estate plan may still be worthwhile:

I give annually. If you already give to charitable organizations annually, that is excellent. Regular giving keeps the doors of these organizations open. That being said, a charitable bequest can ensure that your support of this organization continues even after you’re gone.

I don’t want publicity. Although most nonprofits publish legacy donors to say thank you and to inspire others to do the same, you can let the charity know that you want to remain anonymous if you do not wish to draw attention to your generosity.

It is unlikely that you need to be reminded of April 15th (or the next business day if the due date falls on a weekend or holiday) being the tax filing deadline date as we are often reminded of this date every year. However, if you are the person serving as executor of your loved one’s estate, do you know the filing date of an estate tax return?

This due date varies. In general, you must file a federal estate tax return within nine months of the date of death. Filing this return in time is one of your responsibilities as executor of the estate.

If you fail to file the return on time, interest and penalties could be added on top of any federal estate tax that is due.

In the last post, I shared about specific things to keep in mind while reviewing your estate plan. Here are 10 more:

11. Charitable Contributions

If you have chosen any charitable organizations for planned donations, make sure these organizations still align with your intentions, goals, and values.

An effective estate plan is like a finely-tuned machine, and it needs regular maintenance to make sure it operates harmoniously in the face of life’s changes and challenges. An estate plan should be revisited every few years as well as after any major life change to make sure it is still aligned with your current life goals, circumstances, and wishes.

Here is a checklist to help guide you through regularly reviewing an estate plan:

1. Updated Information

During your life:

When it comes to estate planning to prepare for what may happen while you are still alive, you’ll want to make sure you have documents in place for your spouse or other individual(s) you trust to be able to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions. This can be the same person if you choose, or you may wish for one person to make medical decisions and for another to make financial decisions for you.

After your death:

If someone close to you passes away and you receive the information that they had named you as trustee, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed if you do not know what is needed to fulfill this role and if you have not served as a trustee before.

Serving as a trustee isn’t an innate skill that everyone has, and there are many responsibilities and duties that someone must take on in this role. Different states may have some specific duties and responsibilities that vary, but here is a general list to help you begin:

  • Duty to Administer the Trust: A trustee is to administer the trust in good faith upon acceptance of the trusteeship.

Estate planning serves to ensure an individual’s assets are distributed as they wish after they pass away. Proper estate planning is even more vital for a single parent to ensure the wellbeing of their children as they are solely responsible for providing for and protecting their children.

One of the most vital aspects of estate planning for a single parent is to designate a guardian for their minor children. If something were to happen to the parent, this ensures that a trusted person will be appointed to raise their children. It’s important to choose a guardian who shares similar values, has a similar parenting style, understands the needs of the children, and who would be willing to take on this responsibility. A parent should have an open discussion with the potential guardian and select an alternate guardian as well.

Establishing a trust or will is foundational to estate planning and can be created to protect and manage assets to provide for their children. A trust can ensure assets are held and distributed according to a parent’s wishes after their passing. A trust that exists until one’s children reach a certain age or milestone can be set up to provide ongoing support for their needs as they grow up, including education, healthcare, and other necessities for their wellbeing. This can also provide protection against potential mismanagement of assets or irresponsible spending.

How you title your real estate holdings is key to making sure your assets are transferred according to your wishes after you have passed away. In making decisions about how to title your assets, you’ll want to consider things such as avoiding probate, minimizing estate taxes, and liability protection.

Avoiding Probate

People often want to avoid probate if at all possible. Here are some common ways to do so: