The human animal bond runs strong and deep. Our pets are frequently considered part of the family, and, in many cases, the entire family. The concern of what happens if our pet survives us is real and one that can be addressed in an estate plan. Last year, California joined over 35 other states in recognizing enforceable pet trusts as an option for pet owners. Though not perfectly drafted, this law recognizes the unusual status of pets, as beyond their legal designation as property, by permitting them to be beneficiaries of a trust and cared for should the owner die or become incapacitated. Clearly an estate planning attorney will be able to analyze your needs and advise you accordingly. I ask only that you think this through so that your pets are protected and that you have peace of mind.
spcaLA has a pet re-homing program into which you can enroll in advance and leave your pets to us through your will or trust. There are similar programs around the country. If you are leaving your pets to a sanctuary, where your pet will live out his or her life, please investigate first to ensure that your pet will have a good quality of life at that location. If you are choosing to set up a pet trust, provide as much detail as possible as to the the care, feeding, stimulation, needs and habits of your pet including euthanasia issues and disposal of remains. These instructions will make the task easier for the caretaker and trustee as well as ensuring continuity for your pet who will be grieving and dealing with change. They are also essential even if you are leaving your pet with a relative or friend through a traditional will. Please note that when dealing with exotic pets like birds, tortoises, coy etc. you must plan for their life spans which can be much longer than that of humans! A huge estate or great personal wealth is not required to provide for your pets - just thought and attention to the details.
Finally, an emergency plan is essential to cover the event of an accident or gap between death and when it is discovered that there are pets in need.Similar to standard disaster planning we recommend a wallet card with essential info i.e. emergency caretaker, veterinarian etc., a decal on your house/apartment indicating the presence of pets and a pet document with all details discussed above with copies given to all relevant parties and attached to your estate planning documents and important papers.
Planning in advance will make you less dependent on the kindness of strangers, will truly fulfill your pledge to care for your pet for the pets' life and will provide you with the peace of mind of a job well done.