Love is a four legged word.
Love is a four legged word.
By MATTHEW ERSKINE
(As posted from The Cat Network, Inc. Facebook page)
LEGALLY, pets are considered property—like cars, houses or jewelry—which are inherited by your heirs, who may or may not be the people you wish to care for your pets after your death. If you own a pet, there are some steps you should take immediately and some longer term planning you should consider.
There are two steps you should take immediately, line someone up to take charge if something happens to you and write down your emergency information.
* LINE UP SOMEONE TO TAKE CHARGE. Line up two friends or relatives who agree to serve as emergency and/or long-term caretakers. Provide them with your pet's veterinarian’s name, discuss your wishes of what should happen to your pet and provide contacts for each other. Discuss up front how expenses will be covered.
Stay in touch with your potential caretakers because circumstances can change over time. People move and have children, or situations may arise that impact their physical and financial ability to help manage your affairs. Name alternates.
* CARRY EMERGENCY INFORMATION. Always bring a wallet card with you with your emergency contact information related to your animals.
TRUST FOR PETS
Planning for pets is not only legal questions, but also financial and whether you wish to involve the humane society or have strictly private agreements and trusts.
Funds will likely be needed to cover temporary or permanent costs for your pets, including board bills and health care. Verbal promises are ambiguous in most cases, so having a Trust or power of attorney in place to clarify available resources can help. Here are four options:
* A Living Trust. This is a popular choice because it can be accessed immediately and is private (without probate court delays). It can be used if you become ill or incapacitated. You set aside money for care, and a named trustee has control. A trust is more flexible than a will, which takes effect only at death and can be a slow process.
* A Pet Trust. It may be included in a living trust, or as a stand-alone trust. The named trustee is given funds and guidelines/mandates as to how to administer funds for your pet and how to distribute any remaining funds when your pet dies. A pet trust is now valid in all states.
* Power of Attorney. This is used in the event of physical or mental incapacity, with provisions outlined for expenses, but terminates when the owner dies, unlike a trust or will. Powers of attorney are chosen when a person is alive and competent and should be part of any comprehensive estate plan. Otherwise, a disability event can result in the need for a guardian to be appointed; taking time with no guarantee your pets will be covered. Name alternates in case the initial agent is unable or unwilling to serve.
A Power of Attorney can be as broad or as narrow as you desire, so you could grant a power of attorney that has power only over specific funds for the maintenance and support of specific animals, without giving them a broad power over other assets.
Also, you can appoint more than one person to hold the power, but since the power does not go into effect until you actually give the physical paper to the person, and can be revoked at any time, you can appoint one person and remove them and replace them with another, if you should so choose.
* Life Insurance. This is useful if you do not have sufficient assets to support your pet’s care. When you die, life insurance can be used to fund your pet trust.
Pet owners have the option of putting a provision in their will for the care of their pets. Such provisions designate a caretaker and commonly set aside an amount of money with a request for the money to be used by the caretaker in the care of the pets. Pet owners can provide alternative caretakers if the original is unable or unwilling to accept the animals and can designate temporary guardians for pets while estate issues are being settled.
Note: Caution on choice of Personal Representative
Unlike a trust arrangement for the care of a pet, there is no continuing obligation for the executor under a will to see to the well being of the pet once the administration of an estate is complete. The integrity and moral commitment of the caregiver will be your only assurance that the pet’s care will continue. Therefore, choose your primary caregiver and alternate caregiver, wisely.
Consider making arrangements with a humane society, animal rescue group or animal “rest home” to take possession and care of your pet. You should review the type of care offered by each organization, its facility and staff, as well as the costs associated with that care.
To care for your pet, you should take action immediately just in case, to have someone to care for them if you are not able to. Additionally, you should consider the alternative ways you provide for your pets, and fund that care, after your death.