What About ME?
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.
“But you must never forget it. You become responsible, forever,
for what you have tamed.”
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
If you were to die or become permanently incapacitated tomorrow, do you know what would happen to your pet(s)? Who would know that you have pets waiting at home for you – and how many pets you have? Who would know what medical condition(s) those pets have, or what medication(s) they require? Do they need it daily, or twice a day? Where is it kept? Are they on a special diet? Who should be contacted to provide temporary or permanent care? Is there money allocated for their care for the remainder of their lives?
Have you done everything you can to ensure that your beloved companion(s) aren’t left to starve to death in your home because no one knows of their existence? Have you selected a caregiver for your pet(s) so that they don’t end up in the local animal shelter or turned loose on the streets?
None of us ever stops to think about the possibility that our pets might outlive us. Selfishly, we’re more worried about outliving our pets and going through the pain of their loss.
What steps can you take to make sure that your animal companion(s) will be properly cared for should something happen to you?
Carry a Pet Alert Card
Pet Alert Card
Should I become unable to return to my home to care for my 4 dogs, 5 cats,
1 bird, due to my death or hospitalization, please immediately contact:
___________(Name)___________ at _______(Phone Number)__________ or
___________(Name)___________ at _______(Phone Number)__________
Place identifying information in your home
Pet’s Name: ____________________ Age: ___________ Date of Birth: __________
Species - (dog, cat, rabbit, etc): ____________________Breed: ____________________
Sex – male or female Spayed / neutered / intact
Microchip brand – example: Home Again, microchip #: 123 456 7890
Tattoo Number / location if applicable: ________________________________________
Distinguishing marks: _____________________________________________________
Type of food fed: __________________________ Amount fed per meal: ___________ Frequency/time fed: _____________
PERSONALITY ATTRIBUTES: i.e, friendly, out going; counter surfs, loves cats/dogs/children, loves to swim, loves car rides, chasing tennis balls, very attached to another pet
Veterinarian Name: ______________________________________________________
Phone #: ( ) ______________________
Vaccinations: List type, date administered, expiration date,
Ex: Rabies – 3 yr: Date admin. : _________ Exp date: ___________
Bloodwork – CBC/Superchem: Date: _____________________________
Heartworm test date/result: _____________________________
Fecal test date/result: _____________________________________
Medical Conditions (if applicable): ex: Seizures, Lyme, Cushings, Addisons, Asthma, food allergies, etc.
Medication(s) (if applicable): __________________ Dosage: ____________________
BEHAVIORAL ISSUES: i.e., thunderstorm phobia, food aggression, separation anxiety
Selecting your Pet Caregiver
This is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your pet(s). Don’t assume that just because you asked one of your friends to look after your pet(s) that they’ll do it. Think about people who are familiar with your pet(s) - parents, brothers, sisters, immediate family or friends. Remember that if the person you select is older than you, they may pre-decease you. Designate an alternate caregiver in the event that your first selection is unable to fulfill your wishes. Discuss exactly how you want your pet(s) cared for – remember - they will have full decision making authority over the animal(s) in their care. Put it in writing. Don’t rely on verbal agreements. Be sure to periodically re-confirm that they are still willing and capable of fulfilling this role.
You need to select your pet caregiver carefully and make sure they understand the level of care you want your pet(s) to receive. Once your pet(s) are given to them, there is no way to prevent them from dropping your pet(s) off at the local animal shelter or setting them loose and pocketing the money left in trust for their care.
Several of our adopters have asked if they can designate our organization as the caregiver for all their pets. Our policy is that we will “take back” every Golden that we have placed in an adoptive home as quickly as we can. If there is another purebred Golden in the home that cannot be returned to the breeder, then we can initiate the intake process for that dog. It must be evaluated prior to acceptance into our rescue group. In the interim, the dog(s) must have someone caring for them until they are actually accepted into our rescue program. We don’t accept non-purebred Goldens, or Goldens with any sort of aggression issues or bite history. Identifying any non-profit organization as the primary caregiver is risky. Many are staffed by volunteers; they may no longer be in existence should your pet(s) need their assistance; or they may be filled to capacity and be unable to take possession of the dog(s) for a period of time. Moreover, think about what would happen if the organization you selected became understaffed or suffered a funding crisis. For a fee or donation, there are pet sanctuaries and pet retirement homes that will care for your pet(s) until they can either find a new home for them or until they die. Once again, you need to consider the amount of one on one care and affection your pet(s) would receive in a place like this. Statistics show that many animals do not bide well in any kind of long term confinement environment. Would you want to be institutionalized? No? Neither does your pet.
If the designated caregiver dies before the pet(s) or before the owner, it is important to have an alternate person selected to fulfill the commitment made to you. The names of your caregivers should be listed in your Will.
LEAVING MONEY TO YOUR PET(S)
Pets are considered chattel, or personal property. You cannot leave money directly to them in your Last Will and Testament. Many states, including New York and New Jersey, have passed animal statutes that allow you to create a trust for your pet(s) and allow you to provide for a trustee and a caretaker as well. NY and NJ statutes state that the trust will terminate when there are no longer any animals left living in the trust or at the end of 21 years, whichever occurs sooner.
TRUST vs WILL
Your attorney can help you decide what legal documents are needed to protect your pet(s). However – it is still up to you to ensure that all personal arrangements have been made so that care can begin immediately should you become ill, incapacitated or die.
A very crucial point to remember is that a living trust starts providing monetary funds for your pet(s) immediately, even if you become ill or incapacitated. This is so because you can have a trust prepared outside the confines of a will, and you determine when the trust becomes effective. A will only provides funding after you are deceased, and funds cannot be withdrawn until it has gone through probate and been formally recognized by the court system. Even if no one contests the will, this process could take days or weeks. You should have your attorney include a provision in your will that states the names of the caregivers you have selected for your pets(s), as well as the type of financial arrangement you have put in place for their long term care.
There are several different types of trusts that can be established.
A living trust, or inter vivos trust, must be funded at the time it is created and takes effect immediately. So in the case of your death, it would already be in effect. You can modify this trust or terminate it at any time. This trust does not have to go through probate, so your caregiver has immediate access to the funds. It can be funded with cash, municipal bonds (which are tax free), or infused with additional cash from your estate that you have stipulated in your will after your will has gone through probate. It is effective in most states, so check with your attorney to make sure it’s valid in your state. And should you move, be sure it’s effective in that state as well. There may be start up costs and administrative costs associated with this type of trust.
A testamentary trust is included as part of your will and takes effect after you die and after your will has gone through probate. While this does not require an immediate infusion of cash up front since the money comes directly out of your estate, it does mean that money designated for the care of your pet may be delayed while the will goes through probate and the court system, and if your assets need to be sold in order to acquire the cash to fund the trust. Another option is for the trust to be funded from a life insurance policy that designates the trust as the beneficiary of the policy. This type of trust is effective in all 50 states.
A pet trust is administered by a trustee. This can be either an individual or a corporation. It can be your attorney, your bank or a family member or friend that you trust to carry out your wishes. The trustee and caregiver may (but need not) be the same person. Having one person responsible for your pet's physical welfare and another managing the money to provide for the pet's lifetime care ensures a healthy system of checks and balances. If the pet(s) dies and there is still money left in the trust, it reverts back into the estate of the pet owner, to be administered and disposed of as part of the pet owner's will or trust, as the case may be.
A copy of your will and/or trust should be kept with your attorney and also given to the executor of your estate and your designated caregiver.
WHEN YOUR PET(S) DIE
Do you want your pet(s) cremated or buried? If you want them buried, where? Do you want an individual cremation or a mass cremation? If you select an individual cremation, the ashes can be returned to the caregiver. What do you want done with them? If a mass cremation is selected, the ashes are not returned.
The HSUS offers a free estate planning kit called “Providing for Your Pet’s Future Without You”. This includes sample language that your attorney can use when writing your will.
Some people would rather have their pet euthanized upon their demise out of fear that no one else will care for the pet. Others think their pet(s) won’t be able to adjust to a new home with a new family. We have accepted many elderly Goldens into our rescue program and all have adjusted very well to their new home. Our pets live in the present, and we’ve found that Goldens particularly “love the one they’re with”. Many times our foster homes have lamented “they didn’t even turn around to say good-bye. They just walked away, tail wagging, jumped right in the car and drove off with their new family.” So think long and hard before you make this request of anyone. According to the Humane Society of the United States, many times the legal system will rule this provision invalid when the animal is young or in good health and when there are other humane alternatives available.
There are cases where euthanasia may be appropriate – for example, the pet is terminally ill or requires extensive medical assistance. This should be discussed with the permanent care giver prior to investigate where their comfort level is.
OTHER Decisions to Make
Decide where you want your pet(s) to go and if you want to split them up or send them together. This is particularly important if you have two pets that are closely bonded. You may want them going to the same home.
All of this may sound totally overwhelming but your pet(s) deserve the same thoughtful estate planning as the rest of your family and loved ones. By taking the time NOW, you can help ensure that your cherished friend(s) will continue to receive the same loving care that you have provided throughout their life.
Disclaimer: The above information is provided as an informational source only and is not meant to replace professional guidance by an Attorney, Estate Planning Professional or Tax Accountant
Thanks to Peter W. Ulicny of Bourne, Noll & Kenyon for reviewing this article.
1The Vial of Life is designed to speak for you when you can't speak for yourself. The vial contains a form which lists important medical information that can assist emergency personnel in administering the proper medical treatment.” For more information visit the Vial of Life website www.vialoflife.com