Published September 17, 2012
If you’re a parent, odds are you’ve thought about the unthinkable: Who will raise your children if something happens to you? Who do you trust to love and care for them the way you would? How do you provide the money needed and ensure that it will be used properly?
These concerns also come into play if you become disabled, even temporarily. Who can you depend on to step in until you recover?
Now consider this: there are three times as many households in the U.S. that have pets than have children- 57%, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s 2012 survey.
Compared to the 28 million children living in this country, Americans own more than 164 million cats and dogs. Adding birds to the mix brings the total to nearly 181 million pets (not to mention horses, small animals, fish, etc.).
For many of us, our pets are our “children.” And, if you want to know they will be properly cared for in the event you can no longer do this yourself, Detroit attorneys Robert Kass and Elizabeth Carrie stress that you need to take some basic steps to ensure your wishes will be carried out.
Kass cites the case of a woman who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. Although her body wasn’t recovered for months, it took five days for co-workers and neighbors to realize she was not just away on a trip, but actually missing. During that time her cats were without food, water, and of course, their primary human companion. “When the authorities finally went into her apartment, the cats were crazed,” he says.
If no one steps forward to take in an animal that, for whatever reason, can no longer be cared for by its owner, it is routinely taken to a shelter and put up for adoption. That’s traumatic enough. Unfortunately, unless it is a “no-kill” shelter, if it isn’t adopted within a certain period of time, an animal that was once your beloved pet, will be euthanized.
As Kass and Carrie point out in their book, Who Will Care when You’re Not There?, the biggest mistake a pet owner makes is assuming she or he will outlive her cat, dog, rabbit, African Grey. If you truly care about your pet, that’s a pretty big risk. Depending upon your age and health, the life expectancies of many species- parrots, for instance- make it very likely your pet will outlive you.
Another potential disaster is assuming that your cousin (Fast) Eddie- who always got along great with Fido on Thanksgiving visits- will: 1) know how to care for him (favorite toy, food allergies, medications, afraid of thunder, etc.) and 2) be willing to do so, even when Fido grows old and arthritic
While Eddie may, in fact, be an animal lover (he’s always been fond of the horses- the Kentucky Derby and Belmont kind), there have been sporadic family rumors about money problems. If you leave a bequest to cover the cost of Fido’s care, are you certain Eddie will use it for this purpose?
In the event Eddie surprises the family and ends up being a flawless replacement for you, what if he, himself, is incapacitated, hospitalized, or dies? Naming a successor caregiver is essential, say Kass and Carrie.
There are various avenues you can take to provide for the care of your furry and feathered “kids” if you become incapacitated. You can start with a Power of Attorney, which, unlike a typical POA (which generally covers financial assets) gives another individual the legal power to make decisions about your animal’s care. This includes everything from moving it into their own home, to giving them discretion to take it to the vet, and so forth. If the individual isn’t familiar with the pet, it’s a good idea to attach an instruction sheet listing the veterinarian and grooming names, the preferred type of food and any other important notes about the pet to help it assimilate to a new home.
However, to be on the safe side, Kass and Carrie recommend creating a free-standing trust, separate from the trust that deals with your material possessions and human children. You can fund it with an amount of money that you feel will cover the care of your pet(s) for the remainder of their lifetimes, leaving anything that remains to, perhaps, a pet-affiliated charity. They recommend using attachments to the trust since these can be easily amended as your pets and the care they need change.
Ideally, you want to have an attorney with experience in pet planning and the laws of your state draw up the documents. “If you can’t afford to do this,” says Carrie, “legalzoom.net offers pet trusts online for less than $100.” This document won’t be as customized, but it’s far better than nothing.
Consider everything you pet gives you- unconditionally and daily. Don’t you want to be sure it will receive the care it needs if and when you’re not able to provide it?
Ms. Buckner is a Retirement and Financial Planning Specialist and an instructor in Franklin Templeton Investments' global Academy. The views expressed in this article are only those of Ms. Buckner or the individual commentator identified therein, and are not necessarily the views of Franklin Templeton Investments, which has not reviewed, and is not responsible for, the content.
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