What Happens to Your Pet, Should Something Happen to You?

We love our pets and cannot imagine life without them — do they imagine life without us?  What will happen to your pets if you become incapacitated or die? Unfortunately, many companion animals end up in a shelter because the pet parents did not make arrangements for their care.  A power of attorney provides instructions for the care of your pet, should you become incapacitated. A Will or Trust provides for the care of your pet after you die. It is easy to have these documents prepared and you will have peace of mind knowing your pet will be rehomed. Here is what you need to know to get started.

Power of Attorney. In California, a Power of Attorney is the document where you name an agent to take care of your finances should you become incapacitated. It is also the document where you provide instructions for your dog’s care and your desire to be kept with the pet as long as possible.

Will or Trust. The Will or Trust allows you to provide specific instructions for the care of your pets after you die. Depending on the laws in your State, you can set up a trust for your pet’s care, or you can make a specific bequest in our will to provide for the pet. Keep in mind you may have different pets when you die, so provide general instructions that will provide care for any animals you may own. Your attorney will be able to assist you with these details.

A little money goes a long way.  As much as I would like to leave a mansion where my dogs can live, as did Leona Helmsley, alas, I cannot, but I can set aside some funds to help ease the cost of transitioning my pet to a new home.  If you want to ensure that the funds are actually used for your pet’s care, consider having a neutral party manage the funds and pay them to the new guardian as needed.

Find a Caregiver. Many people have told me they do not need to provide for their pet in their estate plan, because their brother, sister, or second cousin will take care of them.  Do not count on it.  Talk to them first.  If they already have a house full of pets of their own, they may be unable or unwilling to take on more animals.  Even if they agree, name a second person, in case the first is unavailable.

Circumstances change.  When I was single I readily agreed to care for my friend’s cats, should the need arise.  She prepared her trust accordingly. However, years later, I am no longer single and live with a man who, unfortunately, is very allergic to cats. As a result, I can no longer keep that commitment and my friend changed her trust.

Create a backup plan. There may be no-kill shelters or rescue organizations in your area that will rehome your pet for a donation. The Humane Society provides tips on how to protect your pet.

Do not rely on the kindness of strangers.  After their guardian died, two cats, Lucy and Ethel, ended up in a veterinarian’s office. They were very lucky to find a good home with a friend, as no provisions had been made for their care.  Lucy and Ethel could have just as easily been separated or worse, ended up in a shelter on death row.  With proper planning it does not have to be so.

Leave instructions as to the care you would provide. A friend’s mom took in a dog whose guardian had wisely left instructions specifically stating that the dog’s new home must allow the dog to live in the house.  Her request was honored and her dog was provided a comfortable life inside with his new family.  As a rule, people will honor your last request, so it is worthwhile to take the time to provide instructions.

Consider purchasing health insurance.  Health insurance for pets has improved greatly over the past few years.  Affordable plans are available to help cover unexpected health care costs.  This will help ensure your pet gets proper health care.

Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Find a good estate planning attorney in your area, preferably someone who will not find the idea of providing for your dog’s care a ridiculous request.

Just do it. None of us like to think about the inevitable and find estate planning difficult. However, it is not a huge time or money commitment to have an attorney prepare these documents.  It may take a little effort, but I can speak from experience that once you have taken these steps to create your estate plan, which protects your loved ones, human and animal, you will be glad. You will have done everything in your power to protect and provide for your family.


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