Planning for Pets

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Pet DogMy grandmother had a lovable toy poodle she named Bopper. Bopper was her constant companion during the later years of her life. When my grandmother passed away, there were no instructions for the family regarding Bopper. Who was to care for him?

Sad but true, we plan for everything in our lives but often fail to plan for our pets.

Some clients make plans for their pets but fail to keep them up to date. I remember reading about a significant bequest of money that was left to care for a dog; unfortunately, the dog had been dead for a number of years.

I am not a pet person, so I hadn’t given pet planning much thought until I became a boater. This might sound strange unless you understand that most boaters I’ve met are dog owners. In fact, their dogs are more like members of the family. It only stands to reason that you should put some thought to planning how this member of the family would be taken care of in the event of your death or disability.

Select a caretaker – Bopper created tension in the family as several members thought they should be the one to take care of him after my grandmother’s death. You should consider creating a pet card (with a photo) identifying the pet and naming a caretaker in the event of your death or if you become incapacitated.

Provide instructions – The caretaker should be given appropriate information about the care and feeding, medications, emotional needs and behavioral issues.

Write a living will (for the pet) – This document works the same as an Advanced Healthcare Directive. It will provide instructions for the veterinarian as to how far he/she should go to keep a pet alive in the case of serious injury or illness.

Durable power of attorney – Legally pets are considered tangible personal property and the person named in the durable power should be willing to care for the pet. If not, the owner should prepare a second document dealing with the caretaker and compensation for care of the pet.

Pet Care Trusts – Some states have adopted enforceable pet trusts enabling owners to transfer funds for long term care into a trust. The named trustee is responsible for seeing to the proper care of the pet. To ensure that the funds are spent properly, the grantor of the trust must also name a third party to oversee the actions of the trustee.

In states where pet trusts are not enforceable, the owner may wish to set up a traditional trust that names the trustee as a contingent beneficiary. The trustee is a fiduciary with fiduciary obligations to the pet. As long as the pet lives, the trustee receives distributions from the trust for the benefit of the pet.

A word of caution…this type of planning is not common and requires the assistance of a competent and experienced professional. However, given the wide range of pets, the extended life expectancies of some, and the love and devotion shared by owners, it is a part of estate planning that should not be overlooked.

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