Our pets are among the many things we need to consider when making end-of-life plans. Who will take care of them when we go? How do we help provide for their care? If these questions aren’t addressed properly, our pets could face an uncertain — and potentially tragic — situation.
Under the best circumstances, a family member or friend can swoop in to care for your pets. But if that preference isn’t made clear ahead of time, and someone isn’t able to act quickly, your pet could end up at a shelter or worse. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that six to eight million dogs and cats enter shelters annually, and only half of those numbers are adopted.
Here are some tips to help you establish a plan for your pets in the event that you are no longer around to provide for their care.
Find Someone You Trust
The first step is to find someone you trust who you feel would be capable of caring for your pets. Then — just as importantly — you need to ask them if they would be willing to care for them if the situation arose. If you have multiple pets, it is a good idea to think about whether you want all of them to go to the same home or whether it would be okay to split them up. Communication is key to ensuring that the person you are entrusting your fur babies to is on the same page as you about expectations.
The next step is to make sure this person is on the short list of people who get notified if something happens to you. It’s a good idea to have an alternate caregiver in mind as well, just in case. That way you can be sure that if your friend or family member’s situation changes and they’re no longer able to take on your pets a back-up plan is in place.
Make it Legal
Most of us consider pets to be valued members of our family, but that’s not necessarily the case in the eyes of the law. That means you can’t leave them an inheritance of their own (because property can’t inherit property.) So in order to ensure your furry loved ones are provided for after your death you need to name your trusted person as a beneficiary in your will who could then become your pets’ guardian.
If you’re in a situation where you can’t find someone to take in your animals, alternative options exist to ensure your pets are looked after properly. One option is to place your animals with a local shelter or rescue group by naming them as a beneficiary, but you should clear it with the organization first, and consider leaving a donation to offset their costs.
Alternatively, you could also include language in your will that directs your executor or personal representative to place your animals with someone else. This would still require you to have temporary care lined up, as it could take weeks for them to find an appropriate home. Your will would have to have useful and not unrealistically confining instructions for how you’d like to see this happen, and you would have to trust that your executor would do the right thing.
Authorizing your executor to use funds from your estate for the temporary care of your animals, as well as for the costs of looking for a new home and transport, can help expedite this arrangement for your pets. The will should explicitly grant broad discretion to your executor to make decisions about the animal and the usage of estate funds on its behalf. (Again, this requires a lot of trust in the person you name as your executor.) The Humane Society has a helpful and detailed Fact Sheet providing sample legal language if this is the route you’d like to go.
Create a Trust
Naming a beneficiary in your will is actually just the bare minimum you can do to ensure your animals will be cared for properly. A will is legally just a transfer of assets. Once it’s done, there isn’t any ongoing supervision, which is what you want when it comes to long term assurances of your pets’ wellbeing. A Pet Trust, on the other hand, is a legal document that is recognized in most states. It outlines the continued care and maintenance of pets and other animals and can name new caregivers or direct trustees to find new homes for pets, and do so under legal supervision.
The Humane Society recommends creating a Pet Trust rather than simply providing for your pets in your will for several reasons. One, a Pet Trust can be written to take effect immediately in case of disability, not just upon your demise. Secondly, wills often take weeks to be executed, and if they are contested, it could take even longer. That could mean your animals aren’t being cared for during that time, which could have dire results.
The disadvantages of creating a Pet Trust is that it can be expensive to hire a lawyer to craft one, and it doesn’t allow for a lot of flexibility should circumstances change for the named caregiver after you’re gone. However, if your requirements are relatively simple, there are workarounds. For example, Peace of Mind Pet Trust (POMPT) is a group that will email you simple forms for creating a trust according to the laws of the state in which you live. For less than $100, the kit includes checklists, tips for funding your trust, and the necessary paperwork to create a durable power of attorney.
This may all seem like overkill, but it can give you peace of mind that your furry friends won’t be mistreated — whether intentionally or accidentally — when you can’t be there to protect them.
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