Planning for your pets without you
Special to the Tribune
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A growing number of states recognize the need to provide legal protection for the care of pets should their guardians become incapacitated or die. It’s important to think ahead and work with an attorney on behalf of pets just as for other family members. Here are some guidelines.
It is risky to leave money to an organization for lifetime care of your pet because that organization may not exist for your pet’s lifetime. In addition, your pet will be in an institutionalized setting and not a home environment.
You cannot leave money directly to your pet in your will. Your pet is considered “property” just like a car. The challenge is to provide for ongoing care through a third party. A simple alternative can be a power of attorney to authorize someone else to conduct your pet related affairs for you while you are alive, and to continue in effect after you become incapacitated. The next level is to provide for your pet in a will, “honorary trust,” or revocable living trust.
A pet trust is a legal arrangement which can provide for payments to a designated caregiver on a regular basis. Some states allow a pet trust to continue for only 21 years and some allow for the life of the pet – important for animals with long life expectancy, such as horses and parrots.
Not all states recognize pet trusts. California and Nevada are among the 16 states who do have a form of pet trust law. An attorney specializing in estate planning can be your pet’s best friend.
Absolute confidence in the guardian named as new owner or trustee is needed. An alternate guardian should be named as well because a trustee’s ability to care for your pet can change. Select a willing friend or relative to whom you bequeath money specifically for the care of your pet. This includes ongoing veterinary care and grooming as well as food and shelter. One way to estimate the amount to be specified is to use the daily cost of a good boarding kennel multiplied by the pet’s likely remaining lifetime.
If you do not provide for your pet in a will, the animal likely will go to your next of kin, as determined by state law. If the designated beneficiary of your pet “property” does not accept the bequest, your pet will go to the residuary beneficiary of your will, which could be a government body. Planning ahead and naming alternate choices are critical to assure a home environment for your beloved companion. In any case, remember that there may be a gap between settlement of the will or trust and your pet’s need for daily care. Plan for the gap as well as the long term.
Another consideration for planning is if something should happen to you when your pet is left home alone while you travel or simply do errands. Available free from the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. are the basics: a wallet card to let people know you have pets at home who need care if you can’t get back to them, a window decal to let emergency workers know pets are inside when you’re not and a Neighborhood Pet Watch program to assure neighbors have access to your home and to information about your pet’s needs. Call 530-542-2857 for your short term emergency care kit.
– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.