For Animal Care
Providing For Your Pets In The Event of Your Death or Hospitalization
For many people, a pet is an important and comforting part of life, often filling the void of an empty nest or loss of a family member. The love and companionship given by pets is immeasurable and many people feel they would do anything for their pets, but then, they never get to it. The care and well-being of the pet is a primary concern. This is particularly so in the event of a pet owner’s death or hospitalization. Below is a summary of how to plan for the care of a pet in the event of a pet owner’s death or hospitalization.
I will start with hospitalization or “non-death” reasons for being unable to care for your pet. Upon the incapacity or hospitalization of the pet owner, advance arrange-ments should be made to ensure care of the pet while the pet owner is hospitalized or incapacitated. Some people have other people they live with who will care for the pet but many do not. Too often, a pet is ignored when something happens to those who live alone.
- Arranging For Friends/Relatives To Provide Short-Term Care. It is easy if you know you are going to need care but often this is out of your control. A pet owner should try to find a friend or relative who is willing to take care of his/her pet during these periods. The owner should leave word, preferably in writing, at home and with a neighbor, or with the building management and/or superintendent, for the friend or relative to be notified. The pet owner should arrange for access to his/her home to permit the care and feeding of the pet during such short-term periods. If an apartment is involved, the owner should consider leaving a key with the superintendent or a neighbor. If there is a relative or friend in the area, the owner should consider providing that individual with a key and with written permission to the building management to enter the apartment in the event of the death or hospitalization of the pet owner.
- Arranging for a Shelter or Charitable Organization to Provide Short-Term Care. There may be an animal shelter or charitable organization with which arrangements can be made to care for a pet in the event of the death or hospitalization of the pet owner. Should the owner make such arrangements, shelter personnel would need the same access listed above if the pet is not being boarded at the shelter’s facility.
- Designate who will provide care in a valid Power of Attorney form. All of my Powers of Attorney address pets and authorize the continued care. This is a formal method of providing care during your life for your pet[s].
- Emergency Instructions. Once the pet owner has decided upon such arrangements for the short-term care and feeding of the pet in the event of the pet owner’s hospitalization or death, the owner should carry a copy of the instructions as part of his/her identification papers in the event of sudden hospitalization or death due to an accident or illness. A sample is:
In any situation in which I am unable to return home to feed my pets, such as my hospitalization or death, please immediately contact [Mary Smith] at [address and phone] or [John Doe] at [address and phone], to arrange for the feeding of my [cats] located in my home at [address]. The superintendent of my apartment building [name, address and phone], my Executor [name, address and phone], and my neighbor [name, address and phone] each have a copy of this document.
How can you protect your pet after you die? On the death of the pet owner, provisions are necessary in the pet owner’s Will or Trust, to provide effectively for comfort and care for the pet. A Pet Trust is often a subpart of most Trusts that I do. Would you consider sending your pet to the pound, into that traumatic and fearful environment just because you did not plan for their care? What can you do to protect the little ones who have given you so much love?
- Designating Interim and Final Caretakers A pet owner should find a friend or relative willing to take his/her animal and give the animal a good home on the death of the pet owner. The matter should be discussed in advance with the potential caretaker to make sure the animal will be cared for appropriately. The person who will receive an animal as the result of a bequest in a Will should understand that he or she becomes the animal’s owner and, as such, has all the rights and responsibilities of ownership.
- Establishing a Pet Trust. Under the law of most states, including California, an animal can be the beneficiary of a trust created to care for the animal. The statute enables persons to create trusts for their animals, and such trusts can be enforced in the courts. The trust can be (i) a testamentary trust, created under a Will, to take effect upon the death of the pet owner, or (ii) an inter vivos trust, created and effective while the pet owner is alive. The pet owner should then ask a qualified attorney to draft his/her Will or Trust, leaving the animal[s] to the caretaker the pet owner has selected. It is best to name alternate caretakers in the Will in case the first-named person is unable or unwilling to take the animal when the time comes. Another alternative is to give the Executor the discretion to select from among several caretakers prearranged and named by the pet owner in his/her Will or Trust.
- Providing Funds for Pet Care Under the laws of all 50 states, a pet owner cannot leave any part of his or her estate outright to an animal. However, the owner may leave a sum of money to the person designated to care for the pet, along with a request (not a direction) that the money be used for the pet’s care. It is important for the pet owner to select a caretaker he/she trusts and who will be devoted to the pet, because the caretaker has no legal obligation under the above provision to use the money for the purpose specified. The owner should leave only a reasonable amount of money for the care of any pet. A large sum of money may prompt relatives to challenge the Will and the court may invalidate the bequest for pet care. Think Leona Helmsley who set aside $12 million dollars for the purpose.
- Designating a Shelter or Charitable Organization to Care for Pets If no friend or relative can be found to take the pet, the pet owner should look for a charitable organization whose function is to care for or place companion animals. A humane society or shelter might agree to accept the animal along with a cash bequest to cover expenses. San Francisco has the Fido Program born of just this need. The charity should agree to take care of the animal for his or her life or find an adoptive home for the animal. Before selecting a shelter, find out what kind of care animals receive at the shelter (for example, an animal should not have to stay for more than a short period in a cage) and the reputation of the shelter. If the organization is directed to find an adoptive home for the companion animal in its care, the pet owner should obtain detailed information about the adoption procedure.
Your pet[s] has always been there for you. Now it is your turn to be there for your pet. Make a plan today. See your estate planning attorney today.