Planning for Your Pet’s Future After You’re Gone

They often sleep in our beds, go for long walks with us, and show us affection after a long, hard day. They may be our pets, but it’s no surprise that today many people consider their pets to be members of the family and treat them accordingly. In our case, my dog Lucy comes to the Reilly Law, PLC office most days and has her own dog bed and routine for her “work day.”

From a legal standpoint our pets are considered to be tangible property in the same way as our car or furniture. Those of us with cats know that our cats would strenuously disagree with this definition–they are not “property” nor are they really “owned” by their humans. Speaking perhaps just for myself here, I get the sense that my cats look at us as staff waiting on them and any legal concepts of ownership are mere trifles. Nevertheless, we should still be planning for their care if we are unable to take care of them.

Although many courts are now looking at pet custody in cases of divorce, their future upon your death remains up to the court – unless you properly plan ahead. In much the same way that parents designate guardians for their children should something happen to them, you should designate a guardian or caretaker for your pet. In order to ensure that your pets are accounted for the way that you’d like if you suffer a disabling illness or injury or after your death, there are two main things that you must do.

Choose a Caretaker

First you must establish who will care for your pets if something happens to you. This may be a direct relative like a spouse or child, or may also be another relative or a friend. Speak with them to ensure that they are on board to assume responsibility. If there is no one in your life whom you feel is the right person for the job, you may want to consider assigning an appropriate charity or humane society. If you wish to have a charity care for your pet post-mortem, it is often a good idea to make a donation to help the charity with care-related expenses.

Put Your Wishes in Writing

The second important part of estate planning for your pet is ensuring that you put your wishes in writing. There are several ways that you are able to do so:

Power of Attorney

You can include direction in a Durable General Financial Power of Attorney (DGPOA) about the temporary or long-term care of your pets. This can include guidance to your Agent on who you want to care for the pets, how they should be compensated, and any special provisions that you have in mind (though often those should be left in a letter or memorandum discussed below). The DGPOA provides your designated Agent with the legal authority to act and the ability to use your funds for the care of your pets. If you are able to resume caring for your pets you can easily do so without any legal formalities.

Will or Trust

To protect the interests of your pets after your death you can choose to put your wishes in your Will or Revocable Living Trust, which can be as easy as a simple statement that you wish to leave your pet(s), who you will identify, to some designated person or persons or charity. You may also wish to leave some money to your designated caretaker (identified by name) for the care of the pets using a Pet Stipend. This will also provide your Executor or Personal Representative some dedicated funds to provide temporary care for your pets until their new forever home can be found. The remaining Stipend funds will then be provided to the new caretakers to help defray their expenses.


You may instead choose to write a letter or memorandum if you are in a bind for time but need to get something down. This is considered as separate from any Will or Trust you have and its validity will be determined by the specific circumstances. This is also a good place to list any particular care issues such as food preferences, medication, veterinarian choice, etc. All of this will help your Agent or Executor provide the best possible care and outcome for your beloved companion animals.

Pet Trust

The third and final option is to create a Pet Trust, which is a legal document that sets aside an amount of money for the care of your pet after you’ve passed. With a Pet Trust you are able to identify the pet and the caregiver, set aside money, and choose the type of care that your pet will receive.

The Trustee is legally responsible for ensuring that the caretaker is using the money as stated in the Trust. Since there may be a remainder of funds after your pet has passed, you must name a remainder beneficiary. Often a Pet Trust is used for expensive or long living companion animals such as horses, birds, and tortoises.

Reilly Law Can Help

To ensure that your pet is well cared for in the event that something happens to you, it is important to decide which plan you wish to implement. Reilly Law PLC can help you to decide which option is right for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, visit us online or call us at 703-579-1936 today!

What is a Beneficiary Designation?

There is a critical part of estate planning that is not part of the essential legal readiness documents such as Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney. Having accurate and up to date beneficiary designations on certain financial accounts, life insurance policies, and life insurance policies can avoid unintended consequences when someone dies. Many people don’t realize that assets that pass according to a beneficiary designation are not included as part of a Last Will and Testament or Revocable Living Trust which can have a remajor impact on the success of an estate plan. For example, if a Will or a Trust has provisions that delay distributions to beneficiaries until some age milestone, those provisions don’t apply to money that comes from life insurance benefits or retirement accounts that names the beneficiary directly.

Life insurance policies commonly have a beneficiary designation of a spouse, children, grandchildren, or a Trust if the intent is to tie in the life insurance funds with the provisions of a Trust plan. Similarly,  retirement accounts pass according to the beneficiary designation made by the account owner. Generally this is to a named  individual such as a spouse or children, but again, if the intent is to tie in these assets with the goals of the estate plan a Trust can be named as the beneficiary on behalf of the individual beneficiaries.

Benefits of Consulting with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

There are many reasons as to why it is smart to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced estate-planning attorney. As previously mentioned, it is imperative that the overall estate plan is coordinated with beneficiary designations so as not to result in the deceased having unintended beneficiaries. Estate planning attorneys are able to accurately review beneficiary designations to ensure that this is the case. We often describe the goal of what we do in our planning process is to, when appropriate, bring together the estate plan with the financial plan which otherwise can be seen as being on parallel tracks that only come together if you intentionally build the connection that makes that happen.

Reilly Law PLC Can Help You with Your Estate Planning Needs

We can work with you to assess whether or not you would benefit from building that connection between your estate planning goals and your assets that pass by beneficiary designations. At Reilly Law PLC, we can help walk you through the various issues surrounding beneficiary designation and estate planning in order to ensure that your wishes can be successfully met. To learn more about beneficiary designations and estate plans or to schedule a free consultation, visit us online or call us at 703-579-1936 today!

Firearms and Estate Planning

When we talk about estate planning, we often discuss the idea of passing our tangible personal property (also known as our “stuff,” or in the minds of many clients, their “treasures!”) to others when we pass away. One thing that we do not often talk about, but is certainly relevant to address in a plan, is whether the client owns any firearms.

Some estate planners treat firearms as they would any other personal property, but the ownership of guns should be specifically addressed in the plan.

Gun Ownership Laws Must Apply to the Beneficiary

You cannot leave your firearm to someone who is not allowed to own a gun or ammunition under the Federal Gun Control Act. This includes individuals who have been found to be mentally incompetent or those who have committed felonies. The Commonwealth of Virginia also prohibits certain mentally incapacitated or legally incompetent individuals, those convicted of specific drug offenses (recent repeated misdemeanors and those under the age of 18.

Nominating a Fiduciary

The individual who has been nominated to serve as Trustee or Executor of an estate that includes a firearm must also meet the restrictions.

Firearms are Subject to Federal (And Sometimes State) Laws

Certain types of firearms are subject to federal and/or state laws. Under certain circumstances, firearms are required to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). A gun trust is generally the best estate- planning tool for ATF-registered firearms. Under the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, certain firearms, such as semi-automatic weapons, are banned all together. Under the Commonwealth of Virginia, unless a firearm is a machine gun, most firearms are not required to be registered.

Firearm Transport

If the beneficiary resides in a different state then that state’s firearm regulations will need to be reviewed before the firearm is delivered to that individual. Since the beneficiary may reside in a different state prior to the owner’s death, it may make more sense to wait until the decedent passes prior to looking at the state’s firearm laws. It is still important however, that the executor researches the gun laws of the beneficiary’s state prior to transferring the firearms. If the fiduciary passes a firearm to an individual that they know may not possess one, they themselves may be found guilty of a felony.

Reilly Law PLC Can Help

If you or a loved one own a firearm, it is important that you account for it in your estate plan. In some cases you might benefit from a special kind of legal document called a “Gun Trust.” We have colleagues in our WealthCounsel network in the area who have a great deal of experience with these types of Trusts and firearms issues in general and we can collaborate with those colleagues or make a referral as appropriate.

Regardless, it is important that you have an estate plan to ensure that your assets go to the intended individuals. Without an estate plan, the process can be long and expensive. If you do not have a plan, or if your plan needs to be updated, it is important to find an estate-planning attorney who understands the intricacies of this type of planning. At Reilly Law PLC, we work with our clients to create plans that accomplish their goals. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, visit us online or call us at 703-579-1936 today!