They aren't just animals to many—they are an important part of the family. Most people love their pets and care for them as if they were their children. That same care can be extended if you include plans for your pet in your estate plans. Read on to find out why it's important to address this issue before you pass away and how to use your estate plan to do so.

Last Will and Testaments

Some people who love their pets and want to make sure they are well taken care of after a death decide to include the pet as a beneficiary in their will. That is a mistake, however. The law sees pets as property and not as a member of the family like you do. Historically, animals may have played a major role in an estate plan due to their value. They may play a role if you are a farmer with livestock or a racehorse owner with an expensive stable. If you try to leave money for your pet, that provision could hold up the entire probate process while the matter is resolved.

Using a Will to Address Pets

You can use your will to deal with a pet if you do it carefully. Consult with an estate or probate lawyer who understands probate law in your state so that all will be legal when the will is probated. All wills and estates, except those with little to no value, have to be probated in your county probate court. In most cases, you can leave your pet to a trusted friend or family member. You can also leave the appointed person some funds.

What you cannot do, though, is direct the beneficiary on how to use the funds. Wills have limited powers over what are called conditions —some are not enforceable. Pets owners should also consider who will care for the pet during probate. Probate can take several months to be complete and beneficiaries may not take possession of their property until it's over.

Using a Trust

Revocable and irrevocable trusts have gained popularity for good reasons. They don't have to be probated, for one thing. That means beneficiaries get their inheritances sooner. When it comes to pets, they may present pet owners with a better option than using a will to address their pet. Trusts may be set up to provide certain people with funds to be used specifically for certain needs. You can even create special pet trusts that address only your pets. They not only provide guidance after death but also after any sort of incapacity.

Make your pet part of your careful estate plans by speaking with an estates and trusts attorney about your needs.