Providing For Your Pet in the Event of Death or Disability

Providing for your pet if something happens to you can be a major concern for people. Many people with pets want to ensure that they are cared for after they are gone. You may informally ask a family member or friend who enjoys your pet if he or she would like the animal in the event of your death.

You may go as far as bequeathing the animal to an individual in your will along with money for its care, or you may follow a more-complicated legal path by setting up a trust for the animal as part of your estate planning.

Another option to consider is creating a power of attorney document and assigning somebody the task of ensuring pet care. You have to decide which approach is the most practical and comfortable for you.

Informal Arrangement

An informal arrangement may work if you have checked and know that the potential caregiver wants to take care of your pet, is trustworthy, and is likely to bond with the pet and be an excellent caregiver.

If you want a more formal, and relatively simple, arrangement, you can use your will to bequeath the animal to a friend or relative. Again, you will want to check in advance to make sure that person wants to take on the responsibilities of pet ownership. The will could include a provision to provide enough money to the animal’s new owner, to cover the pet’s lifetime expenses. (By law, you cannot will money or property directly to your pet.) However, although the will specifies who will own the pet, that person is under no legal obligation to use the money set aside for the animal in any particular way. There’s nothing to prevent the person you chose from taking the money and using it to pay for an expensive vacation.

Pet Trust

A more costly, but legally enforceable, choice is to set up a trust for your pet. In this case, the trustee is in charge of the money the caregiver will use to take care of the pet, and the caregiver is legally obligated to use the money only for that purpose. A trust can be set up to provide pet care not only at death, but at any point at which the owner of the trust becomes ill or incapacitated. Unlike a will, which might not be probated immediately and could leave your animal’s care in limbo for a period of time, a trust can be written to go into effect at any point.

If you decide to set up a pet trust, you need to make sure it is valid and enforceable in your state. Be aware, too, that such a trust is relatively expensive to administer.

Power of Attorney

Another legal pathway is a power of attorney. Simpler than trusts and not very expensive, such a document authorizes a person to act on your behalf. This person, the attorney-in-fact, would be in charge of making arrangements for the pet care in the event of illness or death.

There’s a lot to consider when you ponder your loving pet’s future. A good source of additional information is the Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org.

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