Since 1947, when the term ‘nuclear family,’ was first popularized, house-pets have been considered a crucial part of the basic social unit in America.
There are over 70 million cats and over 70 million dogs occupying over 30% of American households. That is more than enough furry friends to stretch around the Earth, nose to tail, more than twice. Yet despite their common presence within our homes, house pets are the most overlooked when their owner falls ill or passes away. It is not uncommon for family members or respective authorities to happen upon a house pet forgotten in the deceased’s home days, sometimes weeks, following their death. Which brings the question to mind:
What can you do if it looks like you’ll be leaving your furry (or scaly) friend behind?
The average cat and dog live an approximate 14 years and a majority of that time they are surrounded by love in an inclusive social environment and accustomed to a certain level of care. If suddenly removed, pets can become depressed, lethargic, ill and even hostile. Without a proper plan in place, your little friend risks being sent to a shelter, or worse; euthanized. As a cherished member of your family, it is recommended you create the proper preventative measures for your pets in case something tragic befalls you by way of estate planning. From identifying potential caregivers to establishing a pet trust, I’m Sorry to Hear has made a list of options you should consider when pre-planning your pets care.
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In Case of Emergency, Find a Caregiver
From earthquake to flood to sudden accidental death, a number of events have the potential of keeping you from returning home today. So in case of an emergency, some estate planning steps should be undertaken today. The first step is to identify any potential emergency caregivers in your life. This should be someone with experience caring for pets, someone your pet has met before, or someone you know who has pets of their own.
Once you have drafted a list of multiple people, get in contact with them and discuss it in full. You will need to secure multiple possible caregivers for various types of situations. For example:
1. Emergency or Temporary Caregiver
If you get into a car accident and end up in the hospital, it would be best if you set aside a spare set of house keys, list of duties and locations of food, medicine and the phone number to your veterinarian for a neighbor or family member who lives within close proximity. This will be your temporary emergency caregiver. Keep the contact information of any emergency caregivers on your person at all times should you need to contact them.
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2. Extended Caregiver or Pet Nanny
If your stay in the hospital becomes an extended one, you should make reservations for a pet nanny. This will be someone who you trust staying in your home, or bringing your pet to their home. Your pet nanny should have a detailed list of any behavioral traits, medical history, daily care instructions and behavioral guides. You should set aside money in a hidden location your pet nanny can access to help care for your pet. Thoroughly discuss any expectations and duties your emergency caregiver and pet nanny will have and make provisions for them.
3. Permanent Caregivers
When making arrangements for emergency pet care, you should also consider making formal long-term emergency arrangements. In order to do so, you will need to consult with an attorney and identify any potential pet godmothers and godfathers. These are the people who will be responsible for permanently caring for your pet should you pass away, and making a will or trust will ensure your pet is properly provided for. A pet godmother or godfather should be someone with financial and emotional means necessary to give long term care.
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There are a variety of legally binding agreements you can make with your pet godmother or godfather including a Will, a Trust, and a Pet Protection Agreement.
While a will is the most common, leaving a substantial sum of money for the care of your pet via a will runs the risk of being contested by a relative or heir.
A pet trust, whether honorary, traditional, or life, or Pet Protection Agreement are the best route to go if you have a young and healthy pet.
Of the 50 states in America, all states except Minnesota recognize pet trusts and allow pet owners to set aside money to help care for a pet and compensate caregivers for their work, though some limits apply. A trust in most states is either limited in the amount of funds, life of pet or 21 years, whichever comes first. Unlike a will, which might take months or even years to come into effect, trusts can be accessed immediately and keeps the control of money separate from care provided, ensuring their adherence. They cannot be contested and are effective during the owner’s life as well as after their death.
Pet Protection Agreements
In case you choose to pursue something less formal, a Pet Protection Agreement can be made. A Pet Protection Agreement is a legally binding document that a paralegal, trustee, investment advisor or even an accountant can help you complete. Pet Protection Agreements are valid immediately after signing, regulate the flow of money and guarantees the care of your beloved pet.
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It’s About Time to Retire
Whether you choose to make a will, trust , or Pet Protection Agreement, it is important you take proper care in choosing your care givers. Any formal documents made should be copied and given to all relevant parties as soon as they are made. In instances where no proper caregiver can be found, there are countless organizations that specialize in the long-term care of household pets. Pet retirement homes and sanctuaries exist to oversee the estate planning and care for pets after their owner’s death. If considering choosing a pet retirement home or sanctuary, it is imperative you visit their facility to get a feel for the conditions, policies and procedures they adhere to, to see if they would be the right fit for you and your pet.
By pre-planning and managing your estate, pets included, you are guaranteeing the safety and care of your pet and friend should they out live you. Because we understand that a pet is very much a part of the family and should be treated as such, we recommend you make the details involving their care as detailed as you would if it were a small child you were leaving behind as opposed to a cat, dog, rabbit or ferret.
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For more information on Paying for a Funeral, funeral planning and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.