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Planning for your Pet’s Care

One of my New Year’s resolutions for this year is to plan for my death. What?!  I know… I  hate…

One of my New Year’s resolutions for this year is to plan for my death. What?!  I know… I  hate to write about it, but it’s reality. We are all going to die – young and old alike. Mostly old, if we are blessed with long lives, but unfortunate circumstances that result in death happen to young people too. I know it is not a pleasant topic.  We really do not even want to think about it, right?

This reluctance is exactly why people die and their property is distributed by law to who knows where? I am not overly concerned about my property, but I am very concerned about what will happen to my dog should I suddenly pass away. But guess what: as much as we consider our pets “family”, when we pass away, they too will be considered nothing more than “property”,  just like our TV or our car. Isn’t that a terrible thought?

How often have you seen a shelter pet’s bio read something like, “…His owner passed away and Fido is looking for a new home”? My heart just breaks when I see that. Not only has this beloved pet had to suffer separation from their human but is then thrown into a stressful shelter situation.

The death of their human is not something that we can make more pleasant for a pet, but we can make arrangements so that they are well cared for and their future is more secure.

Pet Care in your Will

Planning for your pet after your death is important. The first thing we usually think of when considering our wishes after death is a will.

Wills are important, but the problem is that they are not immediate. Wills will only take effect after probated and that could be weeks after someone dies. What happens to your pet in the meantime? I am not saying that you shouldn’t include your pet in your will… If your state will allow it (some do not), you should make provisions in your will for your pets. It just means that a will has its limitations, and it is a good idea to talk to your attorney about creating additional legal documents that will make up for the will’s inabilities. Consider setting up a Pet Trust.

Pet Trusts

As mentioned, a Will sometimes takes days or even weeks to take effect. A pet trust can provide for your pet’s care immediately when you die, or even if you get sick or become incapacitated and are unable to care for your pet. You set up the trust just the way you want it.

First, you should designate a trustee. That is the person that is to take over care of your pet. If you do not name a trustee, the court will appoint an administrator that will protect your pet and make sure the specifics of your trust are adhered to. Your trustee should be someone you and your pet know well and who has agreed to take on the responsibilities of caring for your pet. It might be a good idea to name alternates (or “successors”) too, just in case your designated trustee is unable to take your pet for whatever reason. More than likely, your trustee(s) is someone you are close to, but regardless, be sure to stay in touch with them and any successors you have named. You want to be sure nothing has changed over time and that they are still willing to step up and care for your beloved pet if need be.

How do I provide money to care for my pet after I die?

Next, you should think about funding the trust. Funding means that you set aside money for your pet’s future needs. Unfortunately, you cannot actually leave money to your pet directly, but you do need to make provisions that will ensure your trustee has the necessary funds to spend for their care. Spending will include regular veterinary & dental care, food, grooming, boarding, daycare, and even end-of-life euthanasia, cremation, and/or burial. You can also designate what will happen to any extra money left over after your pet passes away.

Under Virginia law, there is no requirement for your trustee to provide reporting or accounting of care given or funds spent. The assumption is that your trustee is someone you have complete faith and confidence in.

Make sure you leave copies of your will, your trust (or both) with the executor of your estate and your trustee (they could be two different people). The executor manages your estate so that your assets are distributed according to your will. Your Trustee is responsible for administering your pet trust.

Hand-shake agreements

You may ask, “How about I just kind of have an agreement with my next-door neighbor that if anything happens to me, they will take my pet?” Some state laws do not permit this kind of “casual” agreement. In fact, in some state’s animal control will not release the pet to the neighbor, best friend, former spouse, or anyone if it is not explicitly covered in a will or trust.

Personal Arrangements

However, it is important that you make some advanced personal arrangements to ensure that your pet’s care does not lapse should you die or become unable to care for them. Pets can sometimes be overlooked during the chaos of an accident or tragedy. What if you are unconscious, or unable to communicate? Some pre-planning is imperative. Legalities aside, there are a few things all loving pet owners should do:

• Talk to a good friend or relative that you trust about stepping in to care for your pet should something unexpected happen to you. Make sure they have a key to your house so they can get to your pet if you are not home. You may even go so far as to leave instructions about what/how much your pet eats, what medications they are on, etc..
• Leave emergency telephone numbers of those closest to you so that your pet’s temporary caregivers can contact those who will care for your pet long-term if need be.
• It is also a good idea to post a list of emergency telephone numbers at the front door of your home as well. If you are taken away by ambulance, leaving your pet alone, the emergency response personnel will have someone they can contact.

I love this article about preplanning for an emergency if your pet is alone at home.

Power of Attorney

You may also want to think about naming a Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney is someone who will take care of things for you while you are still alive, but physically or mentally incapacitated. The ASPCA advises, “A limited durable power of attorney can be used to designate someone to make decisions regarding the care of your pet should you become unable. This person will only have the ability to make decisions about your pet during your lifetime”. Here is an example of a Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care.

Legal Advice

For your convenience, I have attached a link to Virginia law regarding Trust for the care of an animal, § 64.2-726. It is essential that you find a qualified estate planning attorney, and even better if you find one who has experience in estate planning for pets. We are not professional legal advisors at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. We only provide this information from research for the benefit of our readers.

Legal forms can only complement your personal efforts in planning and finding the right people to care for your pets. Do your due diligence. Talk to the professionals. Find a compassionate, caring person(s) to take responsibility for your furbabies. It is not a pleasant thing to think about but once finished, will give you great peace of mind.

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