Who Will Provide for Your Pet When You're Not Able to?
Those family members with four legs, fins, feathers or fur can be remembered in a will providing for their care after their owners go to that great pet store in the sky. Almost two thirds of American households own a pet and yet most pets are unprotected if their owner dies or becomes incapacitated. What a person can do to provide for a pet depends on state law.
We in California are lucky in that we have a way to ensure our pets' wellbeing. Your estate planning attorney can assist with this thanks to a new California law. Passed in 2008, the new law allows a pet owner to set up a trust for the care of one or more designated domestic or pet animals. You can appoint a trustee (someone you know and trust) to take care of your pet or if this trustee is not available, a court can appoint a responsible trustee.
Set up a pet trust for your animal
The new pet trust law provides that an animal trust is a lawful charitable purpose. Your trust will end when no animal living on the date of your death is still alive. The trustee has to use the assets set aside for the animal's care for the animal, not for trustee or for anything else. You can have any remaining assets given to whomever you choose.
Under California law you can also pick someone to enforce the terms of the trust to make sure that assets are being used as they are supposed to be. The assets left for the animal have to be accounted for if the amount is over $40,000. If less than $40,000 an accounting is only required if ordered by a court or if provided for in your pet trust. Lastly, the statute lets animal care groups participate in the enforcement of the trust provisions as "interested parties" with authority to inspect the animal, the premises where the animal is maintained, or the books and records of the trust.
So how does this work for you?
So how would this work for you. Let's say you have two dogs named Fido and Spot. You can set up a dog pet trust that will make sure that the money is there for the food, shelter, veterinary care, exercise and companionship. If your friend, Joe, will agree to take the dogs if something happens to you, you have your caretaker. Your friend, Julie will take care of the money. Joe will get a set amount per year to take care of your canine friends. Since you just want to know they won't be "orphaned" this arrangement will ensure that Fido and Spot will have a home and will never end up in a shelter or in danger of being euthanized. Most of us want our pets to feel loved. If you choose the caretaker(s), chances are that Fido and Spot are going to be very happy, loved and well taken care of. This process is similar to choosing a guardian for a child.
Donations for your pet
For a nice donation you can have Fido and Spot taken care of at a retirement home or charitable organization that cares for pets. The latter are often university veterinary schools or nonprofit animal-welfare groups which can be expensive and may also seem impersonal. However, you would be assured that people who like animals would be around your pet and you can leave the sums not used before your animal dies to that organization if you choose, contributing to animal welfare programs even after your pet has passed on.
Steps to take to protect your pet
So in other words you can:
1. Determine a set amount to take care of your pet;
2. Name a caregiver;
3. Name a trustee who manages the funds;
4. Name someone who will check on the caregiver, if needed; and
5. Leave the money after the pet dies to a family member, friend or charity.
People were amazed when Leona Helmsley left $12 million in her will to her beloved white Maltese, Trouble. The court reduced the bequest to $1 million giving the rest to charities, but we can probably assume that Trouble will have at least his material needs met for the rest of his life. While you may not have $12 million for Fido and Spot, you can determine what amount you want to leave for your pet's care. If a court did decide it is too much, you can even direct who it would go to if it was deemed unnecessary for the care of your pet.
Calculate the investment
You can calculate the amount that you think will be needed, taking inflation into account, to take care of your pets for the remainder of their lives. An investment's earnings can help generate the needed monies and even if the fund is diminished over the life of Fido and Spot, you will know they will be covered over their life span. Financial planning is somewhat harder for a bird owner whose pet may live for 100 years, but the alternative if care is not planned is certainly not desired. Each pet has different needs and needs to be planned for individually.
Be sure to put a RFID chip on your pet
Another thing to consider when planning for your pet's long term wellbeing is having an RFID chip implanted in your pet. RFID chips can be read by special scanners and help animal control or veterinarians identify your pet should it get lost or injured. While "chipping" your pet is not necessarily part of setting up a pet trust, it certainly will help if there is a disaster and your pet gets lost. After hurricane Katrina, New Orleans animal control found it extremely difficult to reunite many pets with their owners despite the good work of many volunteers. Our Red Cross Chapter in Santa Monica, CA is actively setting up a pet disaster plan in conjunction with the city, police, fire department and other agencies. You can help protect your pet by making sure that your pet is identifiable. Find out what your city has for a disaster plan for animals.
Planning ahead - Disasters, Fires, and CPR for your pet
There are other ways to protect your pets. Many animals are lost in house fires because the firefighters are unaware that a pet might be on the premises. By posting a notice inside your home near the front door that you have pets, you are signaling the firefighters that pets are in need of rescue. The Santa Monica Red Cross chapter teaches animal CPR, another way to keep your pet safe. Contact your local Red Cross Chapter and learn CPR to care for your pet in case of an emergency.
For many people, old and young alike, pets are as much a part of their family as any human member might be. For the elderly especially, a pet can dramatically improve health and lifestyle. But who will take care of the beloved pet who outlives its owner?