Love Your Pet? Here’s How to Make Sure They’re Cared for Even When You’re Gone

The bond between humans and their pets is profound and transcends the boundaries of life and death. For many, pets are not just animals; they are family. Yet, one of the most overlooked reasons for pets, especially dogs, becoming homeless is the death or incapacitation of their owners. While society is quick to point fingers at pet parents for abandoning their furry companions, sometimes life’s unforeseen circumstances, such as illness, incapacitation, or death, are to blame.

Illness or death is a top reason pets are given up

According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, an owner’s illness or death remains one of the top 10 reasons pets are relinquished. This stark reality underscores the importance of planning for our pets’ futures, ensuring they are cared for even when we are no longer around to do so.

A Kiplinger article titled “Estate Planning for Pets: How to Protect Your Furry Friends” paints a grim picture, estimating that over half a million pets are euthanized annually due to the death or disability of their caregivers.

Who Should Have A Succession Plan For Their Pet?

Every pet owner, regardless of age or health status, should consider creating estate planning for pets. While the immediate thought might be that only older individuals or those with severe health conditions need such a plan, the unpredictability of life makes it essential for all. Accidents, sudden illnesses, or unforeseen life changes can happen to anyone at any time.

“It’s just as important to think about who will care for your pet if something happens to you as it is to think about where your human dependents or property will go,” says Rachel Hirschfeld, a pet trust lawyer.

Single pet owners should prioritize due to potential caregiver absence

Rehoming a dog

For those who consider their pets as family, ensuring their well-being in the owner’s absence becomes a moral responsibility. Single pet owners, in particular, should prioritize this, as their pets might not have an immediate caregiver. Families with pets should also have a plan in place to avoid potential disputes or uncertainties about the pet’s care.

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Individuals with specific wishes or those who own pets with special needs or medical conditions must outline their preferences in a succession plan. This ensures that the pet continues to receive the required care and attention even in the owner’s absence.

Maltese Was Left A $12 Million Trust

The idea of leaving behind resources for pets isn’t new. There have been instances of celebrities and affluent individuals leaving behind vast fortunes for their pets. The most famous case might be that of Leona Helmsley, who left $12 million in trust for her dog, Trouble. But the top spot goes to the top spot goes to Gunther III, Countess Karlotta Libenstein’s German Shepherd, who inherited $106 million in 1992.

While such lavish provisions are not common, they underscore the importance of planning for a pet’s future. However, one doesn’t need to be wealthy to ensure their pet’s well-being. A well-thought-out plan, irrespective of the amount, is what truly matters.

How To Create A Pet Succession Plan

Experts recommend planning for your pet’s future in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Designating a trusted friend or family member or setting up a pet trust can ensure your pet’s well-being if you’re no longer able to care for them.

The answer lies in building a succession plan which involves:

  1. Identifying potential caregivers who can take over the responsibility of your pet.
  2. Setting aside financial resources for the pet’s care.
  3. Creating a legal framework, such as a pet trust, to ensure that your wishes regarding your pet’s care are honored.

Steven Maughan, vice president of planned gifts and estates at the Humane Society of the United States, emphasizes the importance of talking to an attorney, evaluating state laws, and assessing resources when planning for pets. Many of the same estate-planning tools used for human dependents can also protect pets.

There are various ways to ensure your pet’s future:

  1. Wills: While a will can specify a caretaker and allocate funds for a pet’s care, it doesn’t offer the legal obligation to ensure the pet’s well-being.
  2. Pet Trusts: A more secure option, pet trusts bypass probate and provide legal protections. They can be revocable or irrevocable and can be part of an existing trust or a separate one. Trusts ensure that funds are used specifically for the pet’s care.
  3. Legacy Arrangements: If finding a personal caretaker is challenging, several organizations, animal sanctuaries, or rescue groups can take on the responsibility, sometimes in exchange for a donation.
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Rebecca Wrock, an estate-planning attorney at the law firm Varnum in Ann Arbor, Mich., warns of the pitfalls of relying solely on wills. She states, “A will is a ticket to probate court. Everything is public record, and all heirs of the deceased are notified of proceedings so there is more opportunity for a gift to the pet to be contested.” The probate process can be costly, lengthy, and may not guarantee the pet’s well-being. She instead recommends Pet Trusts.

Learn More About Pet Trusts In The Book My All My Children Wear Fur Coats: How to leave a legacy for your pet.

A Pet Trust May Be The Best Choice

A pet trust is a legal arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of one or more pets in the event of the owner’s disability or death. Unlike a simple will, a pet trust is a more secure and detailed way to ensure your pet’s future well-being. You can have an attorney set one up or you can use preformatted ones like this from Animal Care Trust USA.

  1. Choose a Trustee: The trustee is responsible for managing and disbursing the funds in the trust for the pet’s benefit. This person should be trustworthy and capable of managing funds. It’s also wise to name a successor trustee in case the primary trustee is unable to serve.
  2. Select a Caregiver: This is the person who will have the actual physical custody of the pet and will be responsible for its day-to-day care. Ensure that the chosen caregiver is willing and able to care for your pet. It’s also prudent to name an alternate caregiver.
  3. Determine the Amount of Funds: Decide on the amount of money you want to set aside for your pet’s care. Consider factors like the pet’s age, health, and life expectancy. Remember to account for potential medical expenses, grooming, feeding, and other care-related costs.
  4. Provide Detailed Care Instructions: Within the trust, include specific details about the care of your pet. This can range from dietary preferences to medical needs, grooming routines, and even behavioral quirks.
  5. Duration of the Trust: Typically, a pet trust will last for the life of the pet. However, some jurisdictions may have limits on the duration of a trust. It’s essential to be aware of local laws.
  6. What Happens to Leftover Funds: Specify what should be done with any funds that remain after your pet’s passing. Common choices include donating to animal charities or reverting the funds to heirs.
  7. Legal Assistance: While there are DIY pet trust templates available, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney experienced in estate planning or pet trusts. They can ensure that the trust is legally sound and adheres to state-specific regulations.
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The death or sickness of an owner leading to dogs ending up in shelters is a heartbreaking reality. By understanding the magnitude of the issue and taking proactive steps, we can ensure that our furry friends are not left behind to face an uncertain future. As a society, recognizing and addressing this issue is crucial to reduce the number of dogs in shelters and give them the loving homes they deserve.