When planning your estate or considering a life insurance policy you may wonder who will take care of your dog or cat after your death and how can you make sure that Fido or Fluffy is well provided for.
Is it as easy as naming your pet your heir or writing his or her name in the beneficiary box of your life insurance application? Not exactly. Your best bet may be to rely on your life insurance policy to pay someone enough to care for your beloved pets.
Insurance experts say that you can't name pets as beneficiaries of your life insurance policy. But that doesn't mean that you can't use the money in your policy to take care of your pets after you pass on.
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"I've had a few clients inquire about what they can do to take care of their pets from beyond the grave," says Even Lavoie, a wealth advisor with Blue Sail Wealth Design in Irvine, California.
Lavoie's advice? Pet owners should create a trust and specify in that trust that a specific person is going to take care of their pooch, feline, iguana, snake or turtle. They can fund the cost of this by disbursing life insurance proceeds into the trust. This money then can be used to pay the caretakers who will be feeding, grooming and sheltering your pets.
That might seem like a round-about way to use life insurance to ensure a happy life for your pets, but it's a smart option. Because pets are considered property, you need a legally enforceable document to protect them after you die, says Frederick Saide, president and chief executive officer of Foundation Insurance Services in Scoth Plains, New Jersey.
What is a pet trust?
Saide says the best document to protect a pet after your death is a pet trust. The pet owner names a specific person to run the trust. This person, known as the trustee, is responsible for passing out funds and ensuring that the person caring for the pet follows the instructions left by the deceased pet owner.
Pet owners can also choose a pet protection agreement. Saide says that this is a fill-in-the-blanks agreement that serves the same purpose as a pet trust and is also legally enforceable. People use these agreements when they don't want to pay a lawyer to create a pet trust.
The key with both documents is for the pet owner to spell out exactly how much of the funds in a trust are spent on the pet and how the animal is to be cared for. If the instructions are vague, complications can pop up.
"Direction must be clearly done in the document. Otherwise the court will get involved," Saide says.
Pet owners can also amend a standard family trust to include payments and instructions for pet care, funding this trust, too, with the proceeds from their life insurance policies.
John Barnes, an insurance agent with Andover, Massachusetts-based My Family Life Insurance, says pet owners must also explain clearly to their pet's future caregiver just what they expect from them. Skipping this step can also lead to future complications, mainly in the form of an assigned caregiver who might be blindsided by the amount of work that goes into caring for an elderly or ailing pet.
"I would recommend speaking to this person to gain a commitment, and let him or her know of your intentions," Barnes says. "You don't want a caregiver to disclaim your pet because he or she did not know."