No one wants to think about the subject of wills, and aftercare of their pets in the event of their death. But a sobering statistic is that a half a million pets are euthanized each year in the US because their owners passed away without provisions being made for them. I have a few patients who found wonderful new forever homes. Lady is an unusual example of an elderly dog who was sent to a rescue group after her elderly owner died. Her story is the exception, not the rule.
This problem exists, in part, because it is not as easy as you think to make these arrangements. In the eyes of the law, pets are treated like property in the event of a death. To properly plan, there are several sources out there that can assist. But it is not as simple as stating in a will “I want my dogs to be taken care of”, or “my cat should go to my nephew Michael”. There is always the possibility that the person might not be willing or financially able to properly care for them. Also, if you leave this info in your will, it is often not enforceable, and can take a while to implement. And,some wills are not handled immediately in the event of a death.
There are books, such as “PerPETual Care: Who Will Look After Your Pets If Your’re Not Around:, by Lisa Rogak, to refer to. This book outlines steps you can take. She discusses how to avoid challenges from relatives who don’t love pets, and gives advice on making legal plans. There are also websites that advise you. www.2ndchance4pets.org is one such site. It is not to replace legal counsel, but does give specifics on what to include in your documents, and what you need to think about beforehand. You can also make arrangements with your veterinarian, drawing up a contract with him or her, and making a financial arrangement for future care. This is best discussed with your lawyer, or one you find to help advise you. Yet another option is to purchase pet health care insurance, and then designate funds to keep the policy in place after your death. I recommend you considering having a pet trust. These trusts are also helpful because they aim to reduce probate tax (the so-called “death tax”).
Several states have pet trust laws in place. Trusts are documents set up to make arrangements, including financial ones, to ensure proper care of your pets. There are different types of pet trusts to consider.
A traditional pet trust gives you a great deal of control of your pet’s care after your death. You can specify, for example:
– the person who will handle the finances for your pet (the trustee)
-The new owner (caretaker/beneficiary)
-What expenses the trustee will reimburse to the caretaker
-The type of care your pet will receive
-What will happen in the event the caretaker you specify can no longer keep thee animal.
This type of trust is legal in all 50 states in the US.
Another type of trust is the statutory or honorary pet trust, which is in effect while you are alive, as well as upon your death. This type controls how monies are disbursed, including prior to your death if you choose. They provide more flexibility than a traditional trust and is the simplest to arrange, particularly if you already know who your pet’s caretaker will be. Make sure that person is aware of your wishes and agrees to perform them. Only a handful of states don’t recognize these statutory pet trusts, but they are not always enforced by the court.
A third type of trust is a revocable living trust, which avoids probate after your death. It can eliminate the majority of disputes and challenges to a standard will. There are 46 states that allow trusts for pets. Legal challenges to trusts are very rare. Most of us remember the famous case of Leona Helmsley allocating $12 million for car of her pets, and her heirs challenging her wishes and succeeding in reducing that amount to $2 million. These cases are rare, and the majority of Pet Trusts, if drawn up correctly, protect against exactly this outcome.
Go to http://www.nolo.com to refer to your state and further resources on this subject.
If you do not prepare legal documents for pet care, your pets will automatically go to your residuary beneficiary, who is the person or persons who will receive everything not assigned in your final legal documents. If you have no will or trust, your pet will go to your next of kin.
If you find that there is no one that you feel comfortable leaving your pet’s care to, that you know, there are options as well. These options will help to prevent a situation in which your pet is relinquished to a shelter. Fostering options can help provide a temporary home until a new owner can be found. You can arrange with the breeder or shelter you bought or adopted your pet from, a breed or other rescue organization you trust, your local animal shelter, or as mentioned, your veterinarian. Another less known option is that some veterinary colleges provide legacy/bequest services for pets. In a legacy service, your pet will be adopted by a veterinary student, who will care for it for the rest of its life.
Funding future pet care can come from cash, life insurance, stocks, bonds, annuities and assets like your home or car. There are various ways that those funds can be made accessible. A living trust can allow you to transfer cash or other assets into it while you are alive. You can also name your trust as beneficiary of your life insurance policy. This is something best discussed with an attorney or qualified professional.