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How To Make Sure Your Pets Are Taken Care Of After You’re Gone

America is approaching a belly rub crisis. Or, in the case of cats, that spot right above their tail that makes them like you for a few minutes.

According to the American Pet Products Association, only 9-percent of people with Wills have made provisions for their pets.

Even though it’s incredibly sad to think of our pets without us, it’s time to do something about it. Here’s how to keep tails waggin’ and kitties purring after you’re gone.

“For many people, a pet is viewed as a member of the family and they treat the pet as such,” said Bob G. Goldberg, Esq., a partner at Meister Seelig & Fein LLP. “Yet many fail to properly consider the needs of their pets in an estate plan. To address this concern, we regularly advise our clients to specifically make provision for the care of their pets in the event the client becomes disabled or upon the client’s death, including custody and allocation of resources.”

If any pets are reading this over your shoulder, now’s the time to cover their floppy ears and adorable serene eyes: The law sees pets as property. Since you can’t leave property to your property, you have to set up a Trust. We’ll get there soon, but first things first...

What A Pet Needs

Try and put together a basic budget around the following things:

  • Food (including treats)
  • Shelter
  • Veterinary care (including medicine)
  • Boarding and play dates (example: dog daycare)
  • Love (including kisses and cuddles)

A Little Bit of Human Touch

Who would you want to take care of your pets if you couldn’t? First, think of temporary situations, like when you go on vacation or are recovering from surgery or an accident.

Next, think more permanent: What if you weren’t around at all? Would it be the same person or people? Once you identify the new pet parents, talk about it with them to make sure they’ll happily take your little (or big) furball into their lives. Something like this shouldn’t come as a surprise, to either your pet or the new owners. They should know, and preferably like, each other already. Once they agree, it’s time to do the legal legwork.

First Comes Power, Then Comes Money

These possible pet saviors will not only be caring for your pet, they’ll also be handling the money that goes along with your furry li’l friend. If you’re worried about long-term disability making you unable to care for your pets, make it official by naming this person as a Power of Attorney (POA). If you’re extra cautious and want more than one person, name additional people as alternates.

The standard reasoning behind creating a POA is so another person can handle your finances — like paying bills and filing taxes — if you’re unable to do so. If their responsibilities are only pet-related, you don’t have to give this person power over everything. You can create a Limited POA with the sole purpose of taking care of your pets (paying for their medical treatment, medications and other necessary expenses).

Is Your Pet Trust-worthy?

A POA only remains in effect while you’re still alive, though. To make sure a pet is cared for after you’re gone you need to create a Trust and include a provision in your Will naming an individual to care for them. You can also give your Executor or Trustee the ability to name that person.

Since you can’t leave money directly to your pets — remember the whole “pets are property” thing — you can stipulate that the person caring for your pet also gets a certain amount of money to care for your four-legged friend.

If you’re concerned that the person you’ve appointed will run through the money and not put it toward your pet’s care, you can set up a Trust wherein the money is doled out on an as-needed basis by a Trustee. It’s like when you name different people as guardian of a person and guardian of an estate. It basically means you trust someone to care for a living creature, but you’d rather err on the side of caution when it comes to money.

This isn’t as unreasonable as it sounds. If you’re leaving behind millions for your lucky dog or cat (or snake or lizard…), you don’t want the new owners to go too crazy. In the more likely event that you’re leaving a few thousand, you want to make sure it lasts. Either way, you don’t want this person to be too money-focused since he or she is now the owner of your pet and must assume the responsibility that entails.

If there happens to be any money remaining in the Trust once your dog or cat finally goes on that peaceful stroll to heaven, you can stipulate the caretakers can keep the leftover balance or that the money is donated to a pre-determined charity.

What About The Will?

We’ve covered a lot about Trusts and not much about your Will. While you should definitely include your pet in your Will, the one drawback to only making provisions in your Will is that it can take a long time to execute. It has to go through Probate Court, which can take weeks (if you’re lucky) or months. If your Will is contested it could take even longer. What happens to your pet in the meantime? A Trust kicks in right away.

Also, here’s what you do in the event that you do all this work and outlive your pet, but never get around to changing your Will. Include a stipulation that says the sum of money that would have gone to your pet’s caregiver is either added back to your estate or passed on to the charity of your choosing.

NOTE: We know we’re mentioning a lot of jargony legal things that might sound confusing: Power Of Attorney, Trusts, Wills, Probate. While you can do these things online, the best way to avoid any possible mistakes is to use an Estate Attorney; especially when it comes to setting up a Trust. They can get complicated and you don’t want your pet to suffer because you made a mistake.

ANOTHER NOTE: If you’re already setting up an estate plan for yourself, which is something we strongly advise, most attorneys can easily and reasonably factor your pet into the final paperwork.

What Are Your Pets Needs and Quirks?

Now that all the official paperwork is out of the way, add some personal touches. This is your snuggly pet after all and you want to make sure he or she adjusts to their new living situation. You also want to make sure the new owners recognize the new addition to their family as a fresh dollop of love and not a burden.

Here’s a good place to start when it comes to listing out instructions:

  • Feeding habits (portion sizes, dietary restrictions, special treats)
  • Veterinarian info and medical records
  • Medical conditions, medications (example: heartworm meds, flea/tick prevention…)
  • Favorite toys
  • Favorite Activities: Swimming, long hikes, agility, watching Law & Order: SVU...
  • Special quirks: Scared of thunder, doesn’t like to be picked up, won’t use the litterbox if you’re watching, etc…

Of course, this is just a basic outline. Feel free to get as specific as you like. You can even create a little memory scrapbook to overwhelm the new owners with cuteness. Plus, if you’re one of those owners who has a social media account loaded with pet photos and stories, be sure and share that info as well.

Service Animals

If your pet is a registered service dog or emotional support animal where do you keep your paperwork or emotional support letter (ESA letter)?

Last Bits Before We Take A Long Nap In A Sunbeam

To make sure there isn’t any transitional friction, provide the possible owners with copies of any official documents they might need (POA, Will, Trust, etc…) as well as a house key in the event of an emergency. If your pet will be relocating to live with someone far away — preferably near a beach and long hiking trails — make sure a neighbor or friend can care for you pet until the big trip.

Congrats on being a pet hero! After you get this all finished, the next time your cat cuddles up beside you on the couch or you hit that perfect spot on your puppy’s tummy, you can rest easy knowing they’ll be well taken care of. *leg shake*

For additional resources check out the Humane Society.

  • Pets
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