Aug 22

Providing For Your Pet’s Future Without You

Protect Your Pet’s Future

Because pets usually have shorter life spans than their human caregivers, you may have planned for your animal friend’s passing. But what if you are the one who becomes ill or incapacitated, or who dies first? As a responsible pet owner, you provide your pet with food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and love. To ensure that your beloved pet will continue to receive this care should something unexpected happen to you, it’s critical to plan ahead.

What can I do now to prepare for the unexpected?

In the confusion that accompanies a person’s unexpected illness, accident, or death, pets may be overlooked. In some cases, pets are discovered in the person’s home days after the tragedy. To prevent this from happening to your pet, take these simple precautions:

  • Find at least two responsible friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers in the event that something unexpected happens to you. Provide them with keys to your home; feeding and care instructions; the name of your veterinarian; and information about the permanent care provisions you have made for your pet.
  • Make sure your neighbors, friends, and relatives know how many pets you have and the names and contact numbers of the individuals who have agreed to serve as emergency caregivers. Emergency caregivers should also know how to contact each other.
  • Carry a wallet “alert card” that lists the names and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregivers.
  • Post removable “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows specifying how many and what types of pets you have. These notices will alert emergency-response personnel during a fire or other home emergency. Don’t use stickers; hard-to-remove stickers are often left behind by former residents, so firefighters may assume that the sticker is outdated or, worse, they may risk their lives trying to find a pet no longer in the house.
  • Affix to the inside of your front and back doors a removable notice listing emergency contact names and phone numbers. Because pets need care daily and will need immediate attention should you die or become incapacitated, the importance of making these informal arrangements for temporary care giving cannot be overemphasized.
How do I choose a permanent caregiver?

First, decide whether you want all of your pets to go to one person, or whether different pets should go to different people. If possible, keep pets who have bonded with one another together. When selecting caregivers, consider partners, adult children, parents, brothers, sisters, and friends who have met your pet and have successfully cared for pets themselves.

Also, be sure to name alternate caregivers in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling to take your pet. Be sure to discuss your expectations with potential caregivers so they understand the significant responsibility of caring for your pet. Remember, the new owner will have full discretion over the animal’s care—including veterinary treatment and euthanasia—so make sure you choose a person you trust implicitly and who will do what is in the best interests of your pet. Stay in touch with the designated caregivers and alternates.

How can I ensure long-term or permanent care for my pet if I become seriously ill or die?

The best way to make sure your wishes are fulfilled is by also making formal arrangements that specifically cover the care of your pet. It’s not enough that long ago your friend verbally promised to take in your animal or even that you’ve decided to leave money to your friend for that purpose. Work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust, or other document to provide for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money necessary to care for her.

Do I need legal assistance?

Before making formal arrangements to provide for the long-term care of your pet, seek help from professionals who can guide you in preparing legal documents that can protect your interests and those of your pet. However, you must keep in mind the critical importance of making advance personal arrangements to ensure that your pet is cared for immediately if you die or become incapacitated. The formalities of a will or trust may not take over for some time.

Is a will the best way to provide for my pet?

Although your lawyer will help you decide what type of document best suits your needs, you should be aware of some drawbacks to wills. For example, a will takes effect only upon your death, and it will not be probated and formally recognized by a court for days or even weeks later. And, if legal disputes arise, the final settlement of your property may be prolonged. Even determining the rightful new owner of your pet can get delayed. In other words, it may take a long time before your instructions regarding your pet’s long-term care can be carried out.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should not include a provision in your will that provides for your pet. It just means that you should explore creating additional documents that compensate for the will’s limitations.

How can setting up a trust help?

Click on photo to see detail of Pet Trusts info

Unlike a will, a trust can provide for your pet immediately and can apply not only if you die, but also if you become ill or incapacitated. That’s because you determine when your trust becomes effective. When you create a trust for your pet, you set aside money to be used for his care and you specify a trustee to control the funds.

A trust created separately from the will carries certain benefits:

  • It can be written to exclude certain assets from the probate process so that funds are more readily available to care for your pet.
  • It can be structured to provide for your pet even during a lengthy disability.
Which is right for me—a will or a trust?

There are many types of wills and trusts; determining which is best for you and your pet depends on your situation and needs. It’s important to seek the advice of an attorney who both understands your desire to provide for your pet and can help you create a will and/or trust that best provides for him.

You and your attorney also need to make sure that a trust for the benefit of one or more specific animals is valid and enforceable in your state. Even if your state law recognizes the validity of such trusts, keep in mind that tying up a substantial amount of money or property in a trust for an animal’s benefit may prove to be controversial from the point of view of a relative or other heir. Also, trusts are legal entities that are relatively expensive to administer and maintain, all of which underscores the need for careful planning and legal advice. After you and your lawyer create a will, a trust, or both, leave copies with the person you’ve chosen to be executor of your estate as well as with the pet’s designated caregiver so that he or she can look after your pet immediately. (The executor and caregiver may or may not be the same person.) Make sure the caregiver also has copies of your pet’s veterinary records and information about her behavior traits and dietary preferences.

Consider a Power of Attorney

Powers of attorney, which authorize someone else to conduct some or all of your affairs for you while you are alive, have become a standard planning device. Such documents can be written to take effect upon your physical or mental incapacity and to continue in effect after you become incapacitated. They are simpler than trusts and do not create a legal entity that needs to be maintained by formal means. Provisions can be inserted in powers of attorney authorizing your attorney-in-fact (the person designated to handle your affairs) to take care of your pets, dispense money to do so, and even to place your pets with permanent caregivers if appropriate.

Like any other legal device, however, powers of attorney are documents that by themselves cannot ensure that your pet is fed, walked, medicated, or otherwise cared for daily. Legal devices can only complement your personal efforts in thinking ahead and finding temporary and permanent caregivers who can take over your pet’s care immediately when the need arises. It is critical to coordinate, with more formal legal planning, your own efforts in finding substitute caregivers.

Can I entrust the care of my pet to an organization?

Most humane organizations do not have the space or funds to care for your pet indefinitely and cannot guarantee that someone will adopt your animal, although some may be able to board and care for your pet temporarily until he can be transferred to his designated caregiver. There are, however, a few organizations that specialize in long-term care of pets of deceased owners. For a fee or donation, these “pet retirement homes” or “sanctuaries” may agree to find your pet a new home or care for your pet until she dies. Be aware, however, that pets are companion animals who need lots of care and affection; they may suffer from long-term confinement in such facilities. Your pet will not want to be institutionalized any more than you would want to be. Before making any formal arrangements, visit the organization to see how animals are cared for; where they are confined; who looks after them; when they are socialized and exercised; and what policies and procedures exist regarding care at the facility and placement with a new family. Also consider what might happen to your pet if the organization were to suffer funding or staff shortages. If you decide to entrust the care of your pet to an organization, choose a well established organization that has a good record of finding responsible homes quickly.

If all else fails, it is also possible to direct your executor or personal representative, in your will, to place the animal with another individual or family (that is, in a non-institutionalized setting). Finding a satisfactory new home can take several weeks of searching, so again, it is important to line up temporary care.

You also need to know and trust your executor and provide useful, but not unrealistic or confining instructions in your will. You should also authorize your executor to use funds from your estate for the temporary care of your pet as well as for the costs of looking for a new home and transporting the animal to it.

The will should also grant broad discretion to your executor in making decisions about the animal and in expending estate funds on the animal’s behalf.

Sample:

{Article Number} A. As a matter of high priority and importance, I direct my Personal Representative to place any and all animals I may own at the time of my death with another individual or family (that is, in a private, non-institutionalized setting) where such animals will be cared for in a manner that any responsible, devoted pet owner would afford to his or her pets. Prior to initiating such efforts to place my animals, I direct my Personal Representative to consult ______________________, D.V.M. (currently at the _______________________ Hospital), or, in the event of Dr. _____________’s unavailability, a veterinarian chosen by my Personal Representative, to ensure that each animal is in generally good health and is not suffering physically. In addition, I direct my Personal Representative to provide any needed, reasonable veterinary care that my animal(s) may need at that time to restore the animal(s) to generally good health and to alleviate suffering, if possible. Any animal(s) not in generally good health or who is so suffering—and whose care is beyond the capabilities of veterinary medicine, reasonably employed, to restore to generally good health or to alleviate suffering—shall be euthanized, cremated, and the ashes disposed of at the discretion of my Personal Representative. Any expenses incurred for the care (including the costs of veterinary services), placement, or transportation of my animals, or to otherwise effect the purposes of this Article ___________ up to the time of placement, shall be charged against the principal of my residuary estate. Decisions my Personal Representative makes under this Article ___________________—for example, with respect to the veterinary care to be afforded to my animal(s) and the costs of such care— shall be final. My intention is that my Personal Representative have the broadest possible discretion to carry out the purposes of this paragraph.

No one can know the future. Even the youngest or healthiest of us are vulnerable to accidents. A little planning can provide some peace of mind, knowing that whatever happens to you, your pets will be just fine.