Family

Who Will Care When You’re Not There?

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Estate planning for pet owners

Who will care for your animals after your death? If you are fortunate, family or friends will do so. The specifics should be part of your estate planning; you should not take anything for granted. People may not be able or willing to take on the responsibility for your pets.

After the death of an owner, beloved pets may be dumped at a shelter or tossed out of the house or even euthanized. Old cats that have only known one home and one owner, end up sitting in a cage, bewildered and depressed. When someone comes to the shelter looking for a pet, they are going to adopt the young, outgoing cat, not the depressed animal sitting in the back of her cage. If it is not a no-kill shelter, the feline survivor will soon be euthanized.

To avoid this, you need to plan. If you are lucky, you’ll just need to discuss your animals’ care with your family and friends. You probably should include a provision in your will. If you don’t have people that you can depend on to take care of your animals, you may need to set up a trust or make other complicated arrangements. Most states have specific statues for establishing a Pet Trust.

You cannot just leave money (or anything else) to your pets. Animals are not ‘persons’ legally. Only humans or corporations can inherit directly. And no matter how much money your cats have, they’ll need people to spend it for them.

If you leave money to a dog, you will be considered crazy (or eccentric, if you were rich enough). Anyone who challenges your wishes in court will succeed. On the other hand, if you leave a reasonable amount of money to a person or to a trust to care for your animals, you will be considered a responsible individual and your wishes will most likely be upheld.

This book is somewhat pricey for a paperback, but cheap for legal advice. The first part reviews the options open to pet owners. The appendices are the most useful part of the book, once you have figured out what to do. References to the appropriate state statutes, checklists for planning, and pet information sheet guidelines are included. There are no sample forms: the law varies from state to state and the complexity of tax and other considerations will probably require a local attorney to set up a trust.

The importance of making arrangements for the care of your pets if you are temporarily incapacitated are also discussed. Who takes care of your animals if you are in an accident and don’t make it home tonight? The authors suggest a Durable Power of Attorney and also provide a wallet card so people know you have pets and who to call.

Besides your companion animals, don’t forget other animals that depend on you: livestock and any other farm or domestic animals. If you have stray cats that you feed, try to find someone to help you who will continue when you are gone. The same goes for birds who need your feeders to get through the winter.

Your death should not cause unnecessary suffering to animals that depend on you. A little planning can probably prevent that from happening.

-- Walter Noiseux 08/25/15