Planning for Your Pets

By Tamara Polley

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You may have put the rest of your affairs in order, but have you made plans for your pets?

Hopefully, by now you have created a basic estate plan by doing the following:

  • Signing Durable Powers of Attorney to make sure that someone you trust will be able to handle your finances, and/or make medical decisions if you are unable to.
  • Establishing a will or trust so your estate can be efficiently settled and distributed when you die.
  • Discussing these documents with your family members, or other agents, to make sure they are aware of your wishes and comfortable with their assigned roles.

Most of us do not think about our pets as part of our estate planning. We assume that if something happens to us, friends or family members will step in and adopt our pets, or find happy homes for them.

But the reality is that when a pet owner dies or is no longer able to stay in his or her home, it is often very difficult to find caretakers for pets. According to an article I read recently, the Humane Society estimates that about one million pets are euthanized in the U.S. each year as a result of owners not adequately planning ahead.

The issue of “what happens to my pet” can be especially stressful for a person who is hospitalized or placed in long term care. So take a moment to make a plan.

The planning necessary depends on what pets you own – planning for exotic pets or large animals is likely to be more involved than for a cat or small dog. Also, consider the number of pets you have – planning for five dogs will require more thought than planning for one.

It may also be a matter of finances. California has a specific code section on “pet trusts,” providing that money may be set aside for the care and maintenance of pets.

Five steps to consider:

  1. Plan for emergencies by identifying someone who can temporarily care for your pet if you are hospitalized or have an emergency that leaves the pet unexpectedly home alone. Keep that person’s contact information in a place that is easily accessible and can be found quickly.
  2. Consider a long-term plan. First, think about what type of permanent home would be best for your pet. For example, can it tolerate small children or other pets in the home? Does it need a big yard?
  3. Identify in writing a friend or relative who has agreed to adopt your pet if you can no longer care for it. If you can’t find anyone to do so, then designate someone to determine your pet’s placement when it becomes necessary. Also, make this designation in writing.
  4. Talk with the person you have designated, so that he or she understands your wishes with respect to your pet.
  5. Make sure that whoever will take care of your pet can afford it. Consider setting money aside in a pet trust, especially if you have multiple pets or large animals.

One of the most important reasons for estate planning is your own peace of mind. You cannot control the future, but you can have a say in what becomes of your beloved pet. So take time to make a plan.

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