What Happens When Your Pets Outlive You?
By Jet Parker
Prepare for the Possibility that Your Pet May Outlive You …
This is happening more often than you would think. The website 2nd Chance 4 Pets reports over 500,000 pets are abandoned each year due to the death or disability of their human companions.
Estate planning experts urge pet owners to prepare for the possibility that their animal companions may outlive them. Medicine, nutrition, education and new treatments are just a few of the reasons why our pets are living better, longer lives; in some cases, beyond our own.
Pet Legacy Planning
Too often, the extended family is unable to take in the pets left behind. Many orphaned pets end up at local shelters as surrenders – where they are often the first to be euthanized. You can ensure your pets’ quality care in the future by communicating their needs in estate planning documents such as your Will or a Living Trust.
Here are some critical points to consider when preparing pet legacy legal documents.
Living Trust vs Will?
Local Dallas attorney Cristina Levine notes, “A trust can become activated if you become disabled or incapacitated whereas a Will cannot. A Will only takes effect upon death and has to go through the probate process before the wishes and gifts stated and explained in the Will can be carried out.”
Address Critical Pet Care Decisions
- Have you clearly documented your wishes for your pet should you become incapacitated or pass away?
- Do you have a family member, friend or pet sitter with current copies of or access to files containing all pet records, information on your veterinarian preference?
- If your pet is older or has a chronic illness (like diabetes) that requires special care, have you assigned funds to help its caretaker cover these additional expenses?
Clearly Specify Details in Your Pet Legacy Plan
- What steps have you taken to identify someone to care for your pets’ immediate needs?
- Who will transport them from your home to a place where they can stay temporarily?
- Who will care for them until they have a new home/owner?
- What steps have you taken to identify someone to care for your pets’ short term?
- If you have no friends or family that will take in your pet(s), have you identified a third party or rescue group who will find them a new home?
- Have you spoken to your designated caretaker to ensure he or she is willing and able to give your pet a forever home?
- Do they live in a home or apartment that allows pets of all kinds (or an extra pet)?
- Do you have an exotic pet (like a bird or reptile) that requires a caretaker with knowledge of its unique needs?
Prepare Legal Documents
Sit down with an attorney and construct the documents that can be understood clearly and legally executed so that your beloved pet(s) will continue to live the quality life you envision. Without these documents, your wishes may not be carried out; someone else may decide the fate of your precious companions.
- Create a master file of all their records (ownership, medical, etc.) and keep them updated.
- Be sure your attorney and family/close friends know where to find a copy of the documents.
Note: Make sure your copy of these items are protected in a bank deposit box and/or with your attorney.
- If you have an insurance policy for your pet, make sure a current copy is in your pet’s file with a payment history and information on how long the policy will last.
- If you want the pet insurance to continue, make sure this is communicated and funds are assigned to pay for the policy each year.
- Work with an attorney to produce a legal document. this can be a pet ‘trust’ and/or provision in your will.
Make sure your attorney and designated pet caretaker have reviewed the documents:
- Who has control over every aspect of your pet’s care (this is often a trustee of a trust, separate from the executor of a will)?
- Who may manage the distribution of funds and property assigned to meet the needs of the pets – as opposed to serving as the new owner of the pet(s)?
- Define daily needs such as foods, treats, allergies and medicines, and the identity of the veterinarian and/or medical specialists.
- Should there be funds assigned for the pets’ care?
- What check and balance system is in place to ensure the money is used properly?