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5 Things to Consider When Providing for Pets

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When it comes to estate planning, there are a lot of things to take into consideration, and one of the most important things is a provision for your pets. The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that each year, 400,000 pets need to find new homes because their owners died. With over 86.4 million cats and 78.2 million dogs owned in the U.S., there is no room for error when it comes to providing for pets.

You Don’t Have to Be Rich
If you haven’t already made plans for your pets, it’s time to consider doing so. Leona Helmsley made headlines when she left millions to her dog, Trouble. But, you can provide for your pets with a lot less.

By setting up a formal Trust, you can create a simple and sensible plan that will provide your pets physical and medical needs. A life insurance policy can provide a comfortable life for your pets and their guardians, and they are very inexpensive to obtain.

Things to consider include establishing a caretaker will do their very best to care for your pet. Be sure to include enough funds to cover any medical costs (routine and emergency), basic needs (food, housing, etc.), training (especially if you have a relaxed parenting style), and boarding in the event something happens to your appointed trustee within your pet’s lifetime.

Lump Sums vs. Annuities

Until recently, most people set up simple honorary Trusts that leave lump sums of money to guardians in order for them to care for their pets. But this relies on people’s willingness to honor the deceased’s wishes and spend the money on the pets—and that’s a leap of faith some pet owners aren’t willing, and shouldn’t, accept. No matter how good your friend or family members intentions are, there are other things that should be considered – how the spouse might react to a new pet, how the family treats the pet, lifestyle changes in a bumpy economy, job losses, relocation – all of these things can potentially impact the commitment level.  Be sure to ask your lawyer and insurance agent about the best way to allocate funds to ensure your pets survival.

Finding a Loyal Friend

Some people feel that formal planning for pets is not necessary because a friend or relative has said, “Sure – we’ll take him.” But there are countless stories of people who have been unable to follow through, despite a large sum of money being left to provide for a pet’s care. While their intentions may be honest and good at the beginning, it will almost always wane as time marches forth. This is another reason that an official legal agreement is recommended, as well as an annuity-type of investment that only offers payment for care when care is provided.

Hachi’s Story

Irene Clarke David’s law office is quick to remind us of the movie, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. “This tear-jerker is based on the story of the famed Japanese dog, Hachiku. In the 2009 movie, Hachi and his owner, played by Richard Gere, walk to a train station daily as Gere’s character goes to work. Hachi returns each evening to greet him and they walk home. When the man dies, his wife and adult daughter are too shocked to deal with the dog and essentially abandon Hachi, who returns to the train station. For 10 years, Hachi lives off scraps and sleeps under a railroad car. He eventually dies after a decade of mourning his owner.” 

It’s a common story that a quick trip down to the local animal shelter will verify to be true. Creating a legal arrangement ensures compliance.

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Types of Pet Trusts

There are many ways that estate planning for pets can be handled and a quick call to your local insurance company will assist you in creating an option that works for you and your four-legged family.

  • Traditional Trust: This is a trust that requires a Trustee, who then pays money to the caretaker of the pet.
  • Statutory Trust: This form of planning allows state law to dictate how your pet Trust is executed.
  • Living Trust: This plan kicks into effect immediately and protects you  and your pet if you’re suddenly unable to provide or care for your pet.
  • Testamentary Trust: This plan only kicks into effect after your death.

Writing Down Care Instructions

Not only is it important to provide for your pet after death, it’s important to identify how you want a guardian to provide your pet.

Things to consider in preparing your Trust:

  • Grooming needs: Specify the individual requirements and frequency for grooming in your Trust.
  • Type of Food: Many animals have specific dietary restrictions and these should be continued unless a health need arises that requires a change.
  • Boarding: Specify what your pet’s requirements are in the event your appointed guardian must leave town on business or vacation. Do you want your pet left with a sitter, a friend, or a boarding facility?
  • Medical Considerations: If your pet has any specific medical needs, be certain that you provide for these and make sure that your appointed guardian understand the requirements prior to accepting such a responsibility. For example, diabetes can require multiple injections of insulin each day and this may interfere with a person’s ability to earn a living. Valley Fever can also be a costly issue and of course, there are bug bites and the potential for accidents in every pet’s life. Medications are expensive and treatment of certain diseases requires a big commitment in terms of time, energy and emotional interaction. Be honest with those you ask to take on the responsibility about the time, costs, and work involved in caring for your pet.

A Pet’s Right to Life

One final point to remember is that your pet may one day need to be humanely euthanized. It’s your responsibility to include very specific instructions in the event such a event occurs. Include information on when it should be allowed, how it should be handled, and what to do with the remains. Your veterinarian should also have a copy of your Trust and be able to assist in carrying out your wishes.

Thanks to Irene Clarke David Law, Garett Grensky at Prudential Life Insurance, and AAWL for their assistance in preparing this article.


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