Your pet estate plan is not official unless and until you complete a proper signing ceremony. Just like with a last will and testament, make sure that you follow these guidelines in order to maximize the benefits of your pet estate plan.
#1 Staple your pet estate plan prior to execution
If you are executing your pet estate plan in-person, staple your documents prior to execution and leave it in that form. In some states, an estate plan document that is unstapled, has had staples removed at some point, or has been re-stapled may require an affidavit from parties stating that they did not tamper with the estate plan from the time of execution until submission to the court.
#2 Pick qualified, disinterested witnesses
Our guide to picking good witnesses describes why it’s important to pick qualified, disinterested individuals to witness signatures to your estate plan. A disinterested witness is someone who does not have any family or strong personal connections to you, and who is not a beneficiary or fiduciary named in your will or other estate plan. Since disinterested witnesses do not reasonably stand to inherit anything from your estate, the Court is more likely to accept their attestation that you met the requirements for proper execution of your estate plan.
Neither of the two witnesses to your pet estate plan should be a Pet Guardian or Backup Pet Guardian under your plan, since those are both fiduciaries.
#3 Declare in plain English to your witnesses what you are signing as your voluntary act
Proper execution of any estate plan requires that you create and sign the document willingly and with a “sound mind.” Your witnesses may later be called upon to testify that you met these requirements and followed all other necessary procedures. Position you and your witnesses for success by verbally telling your witnesses that you are signing your pet estate plan as your free and voluntary act to ensure the continued care, safety, and wellbeing of your pet(s).
If you have chosen as Primary Pet Guardian someone who is not one of your heirs or closely related to you, it’s also a good idea to offer a simple one or two sentence explanation to your witnesses as to why that person is the best fit for this responsibility.
#4 Sign in the presence of your witnesses, and have them do the same
In the visual presence and hearing of your witnesses, sign your pet estate plan and invite your witnesses to do the same. Don’t let anyone leave the room until all parties apply their signatures. It shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes.
Although in some states you can sign outside of your witnesses' presence if, when your witnesses sign, you acknowledge to them that the signature on the document is yours and repeat the same attestations, most estate planning attorneys encourage their clients to sign in the presence of their witnesses as a more robust policy.
#5 Make sure your witnesses print their names and addresses legibly
Instruct your witnesses to print their names and addresses legibly and carefully, or do it for them and have them just sign their name. If someone attempts to challenge the validity of your pet estate plan and you have passed away or are otherwise unable to represent yourself, it may be necessary to contact the witnesses to secure their attestation and/or appearance in court. If your Executor can't read their name and address because your witnesses’ handwriting is poor, that's a problem!
Bonus: Tip for Executing a Limited Pet Power of Attorney
You can find a notary public at your local bank, which typically provides the notary service for free as long as you hold an account with them.
Alternatively, if you work in a medium to large size office, chances are that an administrative assistant, HR representative, or someone else at your company is a notary public. This is a great way to nail your signing ceremony – you have a notary public and can typically find two co-workers who qualify as disinterested individuals. While you’re at it, you might even tell them how easy it was to create your Pet Estate Plan with Just In Case Estates 😉.
Want more help nailing the perfect pet estate plan signing ceremony?
If you have any questions or would like additional help planning your pet estate plan signing ceremony, reach out to our Just In Case Estates support team on live chat or at firstname.lastname@example.org.