Like an overeager puppy, people often ask if they can name their pet as a beneficiary of their life insurance policy.
The rules are anything but fuzzy: You cannot name your pet as a life insurance beneficiary.
Why? Well, a life insurance company has to give a policy’s payout, known as a death benefit, to its beneficiaries, and pets don’t have bank accounts.
That said, there are some ways to ensure that Fido, Duke or Beowoof is taken care of after you’re no longer there to fill the dog dish (or fishbowl, or take out the cat litter). Here is a step-by-step guide.
1. Set up a trust
Your options vary by state, but you can set up a trust in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. So what is it? A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of your pets in the event of your disability or death, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Pet Trust Primer.
You can designate a dollar amount to be available for your pet’s care when you die and a caretaker (called a beneficiary in the trust) for the pet. You also can name a separate trustee to oversee the funds in the trust and to ensure the money is spent on your pet. According to ASPCA, trusts commonly continue throughout the life of the pet or for 21 years, whichever comes first. (Some states omit the 21-year limit, which as ASPCA notes, is particularly helpful for animals with longer life expectancies, such as horses and parrots.)
Both Luis Martinez, a regulatory analyst at Haven Life, and ASPCA suggest that you consider speaking with an attorney when setting up a trust to ensure it conforms to your state’s law. Again, pets don’t have bank accounts, but trusts are the most common way to ensure that your beloved animals are taken care of if something happens to you.
2. Provide instructions for taking care of your pet
It is helpful to provide your pet’s caregiver with detailed information on how to care for your pet. ASPCA recommends providing the following information:
- Identification information, such as photos, microchips, DNA samples. This can help prevent fraud.
- Details of your pet’s standard of living and care.
- How regularly your pet should be inspected by the trustee.
- How much money is required to adequately care for your pet, and how those funds should be distributed to the caregiver.
- A remainder beneficiary. Essentially, plans for what happens to the money once your pet dies.
- What to do with your pet’s body once he or she has died.
If your pet has an allergy or other special considerations, you can make those things clear to a potential caretaker in your trust agreement.
3. Communicate your plans to your loved ones
Getting a surprise puppy can be fun, but not when it comes unexpectedly from your dead friend with the expectation you’ll raise it as your own. That’s why it’s important to let the person you want to entrust with your pet know that you want him or her to care for your pet when you’re gone.
You also need to let other beneficiaries understand that some of your estate is being shared with your pet. Chances are, it’s not a huge percentage of your estate anyway, but again, trust us: This is not the kind of surprise someone will appreciate receiving down the road.
4. Use your will instead
When creating a will, you can leave crystal clear instructions for the care of your pet, so this would need to be really thought out, notes Luis from Haven Life.
That said, providing details and expectations in your will, rather than a trust, offers simplicity and ease for you in the here and now. With a trust, you are spelling out not just who will take care of your pet, but how much money is required, when and how that money will be distributed, and any other special needs the caretaker should consider. The caretaker will then be legally required to use that money exclusively for the care of your pet.
But if you know and trust someone — such as your spouse, a good friend, or your adult child — chances are you can leave instructions in your will that that person will take care of your pet after you’re gone. You can also leave (non-legally binding) care instructions in a separate document.
Plan ahead can make your pet’s life less hard
Pets are family. That’s why it’s important to keep them in mind when making your end-of-life plans.
Just remember: Working on your plans with an attorney (or a service such as Trust & Will) can be a good idea.
It’s not just easier life insurance, it’s an easier life.
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Louis Wilson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, both online and in print. He often writes about travel, sports, popular culture, men’s fashion and grooming, and more. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he has developed an unbridled passion for breakfast tacos, with his wife and two children. Opinions are the writer’s own.
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