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Your Pet's Future

 

Providing For Your Petís Future

Many a beloved pet has ended up as a homeless animal in a shelter when the petís owner died and no provisions had been made for someone else to care for the animal.  Surely that animalís human, who had loved him dearly, would not have wanted that fate for his animal, but without any specific written instructions or plans, the animalís future was left in the hands of people who were less caring, too overburdened and/or unable to care for the animal.

Just as you provide for and anticipate the needs for your pet while you are alive, it is important that you ensure that the excellent care that you want for your pet continues if you die.  These plans should be carefully set out in writing with the help of a lawyer with special knowledge about wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.  You should also discuss your plans with another person close to you, so that, should anything happen to you, there would be no delay in continuing care for your pet. 

Keep in mind that wills, trusts, and powers of attorney are only legal devices.  They cannot, by themselves, guarantee that your pets are cared for.  We recommend that you choose a guardian(s) for your pet and discuss with them what you would like them to do regarding your pet if you should die.  Once you have chosen someone to oversee the care of your pet in the event of your death or disability, you should ensure that the legal documents that you set up will give the person(s) that you have chosen the legal ability and means to carry out your wishes.

The information in this section is not intended to be legal advise.  We recommend that you speak to an attorney regarding planning for your petís future without you.  The information in this section is meant merely to serve as some guidelines and material for thought as you plan for the future.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has some excellent web pages on providing for your petís future without you.  They can be found at http://www.hsus.org.ace/11834.  The following information is taken from the HSUS web pages.

Wills

Although your lawyer will help you decide what type of document best suits your needs, you should be aware of some drawbacks to wills.  For example, a will takes effect only upon your death and it will not be probated and formally recognized by a court for days, weeks, or even months after your death.  Whatís more, if legal disputes arise, the final settlement of your property may be prolonged even longer.  In this case, even determining the rightful new owner of your pet can get delayed.  In other words, with a will it may take a long time before your instructions regarding your petís long-term care can be carried out. 

This does not mean that you should not include a provision in your will that provides for your pet.  It just means that you should explore creating additional documents that compensate for the limitations of the will.

Trusts

Unlike a will, a trust can provide for your pet immediately and can apply not only if you die, but also if you become ill or incapacitated.  When you create a trust for your pet, you set aside money to be used for his care and you specify a trustee to control the funds.

A trust created separately from your will carries certain benefits.  The trust can be written to exclude certain assets from the probate process so that funds are more readily available to care for your pet.  Additionally, it can be structured to provide for your pet even if you are disabled for long periods of time.

Powers of Attorney

Powers of Attorney, which authorize someone else to conduct some or all of your affairs for you while you are alive, have become a standard planning device.  Such documents can be written to take effect upon your physical or mental incapacity and to continue in effect after you become incapacitated.  Provisions can be inserted in powers of attorney authorizing your attorney-in-fact Ė the person designated to handle your affairs Ė to take care of your pets, expend money to do so, and even to place your pets with permanent caregivers if appropriate.

Coordinating your wills, trusts and/or powers of attorney

There are many types of wills, trusts, and powers of attorney; determining which is/are best for you and your pet depends on your situations and needs.  It is important to seek the advice of an attorney who both understands your desire to provide for your pet and can help you create a will and/or trusts and possibly a power of attorney that best provides for your pet.

You and your attorney also need to make sure that a trust for the benefit of one or more specific animals is valid and enforceable in your state.  Even if your state law recognizes the validity of such trusts, keep in mind that tying up a substantial amount of money or property in a trust for an animalís benefit may prove to be controversial from the point of view of a relative or other heir.

After you and your lawyer create a will, a trust, or both, leave copies with the person youíve chosen to be executor of your estate as well as with the petís designated caregiver so that he or she can look after your pet immediately.  (The executor and the caregiver may or may not be the same person.)  Also, make sure that the caregiver also has copies of your petís veterinary records and/or your veterinarianís name and address.

 

 

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