Estate Planning with Your Pet in Mind

We recently had the opportunity to participate in a news story regarding the benefits of considering your pet as part of your estate planning. While the issue has received some media attention due to Leona Helmsley’s $12,000,000 gift to her dog, the truth is that planning for pets is generally common sense.

Pets are considered personal property by law. At the death of an individual, the personal property must be distributed to someone, sold or disposed of in some fashion. A pet obviously requires more immediate attention than other items of personal property. Planning for a pet may be as simple as making sure there is someone who will take the animal at the death or illness of the owner.

Sometimes pets have special needs. Horses need property. Certain birds have long life spans. Some pets require medications. If there is a question as to whether or not someone can afford to take in a pet without some extra help, provisions can be made in the estate plan to provide cash, land or other assistance to the new caretaker of the animal in exchange for assuming the responsibilities of the pet owner.

A plan to include pets can be as simple or as complicated as the owner wishes. At the bare minimum, someone should be named to take care of the animals. If no one is named, too often the animals end up in a shelter. At the extreme, a trust may be set up to provide distributions to an individual to take care of the animal.

Tax Reminders

  • Question: Do I have to bring in all of my receipts for deductions?
  • Answer: In general – “No.” As long as you advise us you have documentation, you can just list your real estate taxes paid, your mortgage interest, etc. However, we will double-check these numbers if you give us the documentation.
    For income – wages, interest, IRAs, etc. – you should always give us the W-2, the 1099, etc.
  • Question: I do not think I have enough deductions to itemize. Do I even need to give you this information?
  • Answer: “Yes.” We will compare to make sure you take the highest deduction. In addition, even if you do not itemize, some items, such as real estate taxes paid, provide a credit to you on your Wisconsin return.
  • Question: If I receive an amended 1099 in the mail, do you need to see it?
  • Answer: “Yes.” If we are preparing your taxes and you receive an amended 1099, we need to see it immediately. In many cases, quickly getting us the amended 1099 will allow us to revise your return before it is submitted and avoid having to file an amended return at a later date.

Common Oversights

  • Failure to include cost basis information. While brokerage statements list stocks sold, they do not always list purchase information. When we prepare a tax return for a client who sold stocks or mutual funds during the year, we need purchase dates and purchase prices (also called cost basis) for those assets sold during the year.
  • Failure to provide K-1s. Partnerships, S Corporations, and fiduciaries report taxable information on Schedule K-1, which is then distributed to each partner, shareholder, or beneficiary. Schedule K-1 information is reported on each partner, shareholder, or beneficiary’s tax return. If you receive a Schedule K-1, be sure to provide us this document with the rest of your tax papers.
  • Failure to mention long-term care insurance. Even if you do not itemize for federal purposes, be sure to provide the amount of your long-term care insurance premium, as a long-term care insurance premium may provide a benefit for Wisconsin purposes.
  • Failure to provide direct deposit information. If you anticipate receiving a refund, please give us a voided check so your refund can be directly deposited to your bank account. This is the fastest way to get your refund from the IRS and Department of Revenue.

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