For many pet owners, pets are members of the family. These pet owners often say that if something happens to them, they are just as concerned with what will happen to their pets as they are with what will happen to their children or spouse.
This article examines the issues surrounding caring for pets after the disability or death of the pet’s owner. Given the feelings of many individuals towards their pets, and the costs of care and longevity of some types of pets, planning in this area can be of critical importance.
A good resource for pet owners is Providing for Your Pet’s Future Without You by the Humane Society of the United States (order a free kit by calling 202-452-1100 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org). It includes a door/window sign for emergency workers, an emergency contacts sticker for inside of the door, emergency pet care instruction forms for neighbors/friends/family, wallet alert cards, and a detailed instruction sheet for caregivers.
Providing for Pets Upon the Owner’s Death
An individual cannot leave money outright to a pet. An individual may leave an outright gift of money to a caretaker with the request that the caretaker care for the individual’s pet for the rest of the pet’s life. However, because the caretaker received the gift outright, and not in trust, no one is responsible for ascertaining whether the pet is receiving the care requested by the pet owner.
Once the caretaker receives the gift and the pet’s owner is gone or incompetent, there is nothing to stop the caretaker from having the pet euthanized, throwing it out on the street, taking it to a local animal shelter, or using the assets in ways unrelated to the care of the pet. In addition, once in the caregiver’s hands, the assets are exposed to the caregiver’s creditors.
A pet owner can establish a trust for the benefit of the pet. The trust will designate a trustee and a caretaker. The pet’s current standard of care determines the endowment amount required to provide care for the pet. Factors include: the cost of daily care (food, treats, and daycare), veterinary care (yearly teeth cleaning, shots, nail trimming, and emergency care), grooming, boarding, travel expenses, and pet insurance. Additional factors may apply in particular cases.
Pet trusts allow the pet owner to provide detailed requirements as to how the caregiver must care for the pets upon the pet owner’s disability or death.
To prevent the caregiver/beneficiary from replacing a pet that dies in order to continue receiving trust benefits, the pet owner should specify how the trustee can identify the pet. Micro-chipping the pet or having DNA samples preserved are two methods commonly used for verification.