I don’t know what it’s like in your neighborhood, but where I live, everyone seems to have a dog. On my morning walk I routinely greet a wide variety of scruffy mutts of dubious lineage, sheepdogs, the biggest Great Dane I’ve ever seen, an obese Bulldog and a yellow Lab who has simply stolen my heart. For many people, especially the elderly, a pet is a loyal companion. It shouldn’t be surprising that people want to make provisions for their pets in their Living Trusts, just as they do for the rest of their families. In California, as in 39 states, there are Pet Trusts.
One woman loses her best friend and a dog
Clare Jackson’s eyes fill up when she thinks about the death of her best friend, Sylvia. Not only did Clare lose her friend of 40 years, but she also lost Sylvia’s beloved Labrador, Dolly. Sylvia had a stroke and died, and her caregiver immediately euthanized Dolly. “There was nothing I could do–Sylvia had revised her Will, and there was no mention of Dolly.”
This experience was a bitter lesson for Clare, who also loved Dolly and would have gladly provided a loving home for her. (Note that Clare and her husband have made provisions in their Trust for their own dog, Oliver.)
Animals who outlive their owners face uncertain futures
People who die before their pets leave stranded animals. In a best-case scenario, a neighbor, family member or friend cares for the pet for the rest of its life. The alternatives? The Humane Society estimates that six to eight million dogs and cats enter shelters annually. An estimated half are adopted, and the rest are euthanized. In some sad cases, after the death of its owner a pet is simply let out the front door to get lost, run over or any of the other horrible fates that befall abused animals.
Thinking of leaving a chunk of change to Spot or Fluffy?
So what are your options for your pets? A Will is a transfer of assets. An animal can’t own property–someone has to be in charge.
The solution: A Pet Trust
This legal document outlines the continued care and maintenance of domestic animals; it also names new caregivers or directs Trustees to find new homes for pets. A Trustee has a legal duty to carry out your wishes.
While owners may simply include their pets as provisions in their Wills, Michael Markarian of the Humane Society believes a Trust is a better option in case of disability. “Wills may take weeks to be executed and could be contested, but a Living Trustcan be written to take effect immediately.”
Creating a Pet Trust: Think about the economics of caring for your pet
When naming a Trustee, think about the expense of caring for a pet. Food and visits to the vet can add up. Some owners make outright gifts of cash for their animals’ care.
One woman set aside $5,000 to offset costs for the person who ends up with her dogs.
Another pet owner reveals that she has a list of ten people who are potential Trustees care for her cat, Sadie. What the new caregiver won’t know at first is that the estate is instructed to award the person $10,000 if the feline is still with him/her after six months. “I want someone to care for Sadie out of love and kindness and be rewarded if they keep her and fall in love with her like I did.”
Others leave money to be distributed over time—monthly, annually, or as reimbursement for expenses.
For even more security for a beloved pet, name someone other than the caregiver as Trustee. This person will dole out the cash on some kind of predetermined schedule, reducing the risk of someone’s taking the money and getting rid of the pet.
One man created a Living Trust for his three Rottweilers. If his ex-wife couldn’t take care of the dogs, two Trustees were given explicit instructions to use their best judgment to find good homes for his pets. There were dependencies: The dogs should be kept together, and the new caregiver would receive $150 per month, plus money for veterinary bills and other expenses.
Choose your Pet Trustee carefully, just as you would choose a guardian for your child
Talk to potential caregivers for your pets until you find someone you trust. In the same way that you would be choosing someone to take care of your children, what you really want is a person who will love your pet as you have.