Because pets usually have shorter life spans than their human caregivers, you may have planned for your animal friend's passing. But what if you are the one who becomes ill or incapacitated, or who dies first? As a responsible pet owner, you provide your pet with food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and love. To ensure that your beloved pet will continue to receive this care should something unexpected happen to you, it's critical to plan ahead. This information sheet helps you do just that.
What can I do now to prepare for the unexpected?
In the confusion that accompanies a person's unexpected illness, accident, or death, pets may be overlooked. In some cases, pets are discovered in the person's home days after the tragedy. To prevent this from happening to your pet, take these simple precautions:
The best way to make sure your wishes are fulfilled is by also making formal arrangements that specifically cover the care of your pet. It's not enough that long ago your friend verbally promised to take in your animal or even that you've decided to leave money to your friend for that purpose. Work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust, or other document to provide for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money necessary to care for her.
How do I choose a permanent caregiver?
First, decide whether you want all your pets to go to one person, or whether different pets should go to different people. If possible, keep pets who have bonded with one another together. When selecting caregivers, consider partners, adult children, parents, brothers, sisters, and friends who have met your pet and have successfully cared for pets themselves. Also name alternate caregivers in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling to take your pet. Be sure to discuss your expectations with potential caregivers so they understand the large responsibility of caring for your pet. Remember, the new owner will have full discretion over the animal's care—including veterinary treatment and euthanasia—so make sure you choose a person you trust implicitly and who will do what is in the best interests of your pet.
Stay in touch with the designated caregivers and alternates.
Over time, people's circumstances and priorities change, and you want to
make sure that the arrangements you have made continue to hold from the
designated caregivers' vantage points. If all else fails, it is also possible
to direct your executor or personal representative, in your will, to place
the animal with another individual or family (that is, in a noninstitutionalized
setting). Finding a satisfactory new home can take several weeks of searching,
so again, it is important to line up temporary care. You also have to know
and trust your executor and provide useful, but not unrealistically confining,
instructions in your will. You should also authorize your executor to expend
funds from your estate for the temporary care of your pet as well as for
the costs of looking for a new home and transporting the animal to it.
The will should also grant broad discretion to your executor in making
decisions about the animal and in expending estate funds on the animal's
behalf. Sample language for this approach is:
Can I entrust the care of my pet to an organization?
Most humane organizations do not have the space or funds to care for your pet indefinitely and cannot guarantee that someone will adopt your animal, although some may be able to board and care for your pet temporarily until he can be transferred to his designated caregiver. There are, however, a few organizations that specialize in long-term care of pets of deceased owners. For a fee or donation, these "pet retirement homes" or "sanctuaries" may agree to find your pet a new home or care for your pet until she dies. Be aware, however, that pets are companion animals who need lots of care and affection; they may suffer from long-term confinement in such facilities. Your pet will not want to be institutionalized any more than you would want to be. Before making any formal arrangements, visit the organization to see how animals are cared for; where they are confined; who looks after them; when they are socialized and exercised; and what policies and procedures exist regarding care at the facility and placement with a new family. Also consider what might happen to your pet if the organization were to suffer funding or staff shortages. If you decide to entrust the care of your pet to an organization, choose a well-established organization that has a good record of finding responsible homes quickly.
Can I request that my pet be euthanized after my death?
Being concerned about what will happen to your pet after your death is normal. But some people take this concern to extremes, requesting that their pet be euthanized out of fear that no one else will care for the animal appropriately. When an owner puts this request in his will, that provision is often ruled invalid by the legal system when the animal is young or in good health and when other humane alternatives are available.
There are some cases when euthanasia may be appropriate. If a pet is very old or requires extensive treatment for a health condition, for example, it may be unfair to both the pet and your designated caregiver to insist on indefinite care. That's why it's important to choose a responsible caregiver and thoroughly discuss the animal's condition and needs so that the caregiver can make the best decision after you're gone.
Do I need legal assistance?
Is a will the best way to provide for my pet?
This doesn't necessarily mean that you should not include a provision in your will that provides for your pet. It just means that you should explore creating additional documents that compensate for the will's limitations.
How can setting up a trust help?
Unlike a will, a trust can provide for your pet immediately and can apply not only if you die, but also if you become ill or incapacitated. That's because you determine when your trust becomes effective. When you create a trust for your pet, you set aside money to be used for his care and you specify a trustee to control the funds.
A trust created separately from the will carries certain benefits:
There are many types of wills and trusts; determining which is best for you and your pet depends on your situation and needs. It's important to seek the advice of an attorney who both understands your desire to provide for your pet and can help you create a will and/or trust that best provides for him.
You and your attorney also need to make sure that a trust for the benefit of one or more specific animals is valid and enforceable in your state. Even if your state law recognizes the validity of such trusts, keep in mind that tying up a substantial amount of money or property in a trust for an animal's benefit may prove to be controversial from the point of view of a relative or other heir. Moreover, trusts are legal entities that are relatively expensive to administer and maintain, all of which underscores the need for careful planning and legal advice. After you and your lawyer create a will, a trust, or both, leave copies with the person you've chosen to be executor of your estate as well as with the pet's designated caregiver so that he or she can look after your pet immediately. (The executor and caregiver may or may not be the same person.) Make sure the caregiver also has copies of your pet's veterinary records and information about her behavior traits and dietary preferences.
Consider also a Power of Attorney
Powers of attorney, which authorize someone else to conduct some or all of your affairs for you while you are alive, have become a standard planning device. Such documents can be written to take effect upon your physical or mental incapacity and to continue in effect after you become incapacitated. They are simpler than trusts and do not create a legal entity that needs to be maintained by formal means. Provisions can be inserted in powers of attorney authorizing your attorney-in-fact—the person designated to handle your affairs—to take care of your pets, expend money to do so, and even to place your pets with permanent caregivers if appropriate.
Like any other legal device, however, powers of attorney are documents that by themselves cannot ensure that your pet is fed, walked, medicated, or otherwise cared for daily. Legal devices can only complement your personal efforts in thinking ahead and finding temporary and permanent caregivers who can take over your pet's care immediately when the need arises. It is critical to coordinate, with more formal legal planning, your own efforts in finding substitute caregivers.
For more information
If you or your legal advisor would like more information on any of these matters, please contact The HSUS's Planned Giving Office, at 1-800-808-7858, or The HSUS's Office of the General Counsel, at 202-452-1100, extension 3320.
You can help your fellow species even after you're gone with a bequest supporting HSUS animal protection programs. Naming The HSUS in your will demonstrates your lasting commitment to animal welfare. Please keep in mind that we're just as happy to be last in line in your will; we hope you will consider The HSUS for at least the residue of your estate. In the meantime, we have materials on numerous subjects that we can send you, including:
You can request a packet of information that includes:
For more information and to request a packet
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