It is estimated that 500,000 of the 4 million cats and dogs that are euthanized each year in the U.S., come to the shelters because they have outlived their owners or their owners’ ability to care for them. Oftentimes, these orphaned animals become despondent after moving to a new home without their lifetime human companion, refusing to eat, showing little interest in interaction and then get labeled as unadoptable.
You have always had at least one pet. Moose, your Yorkshire Terrier and Adonis, your Siamese cat have become part of your family. You may have a horse or two, a pig, a bird or even lizards. You couldn’t imagine what life would be like without your pets. But have you ever thought about what Moose or Adonis’ life would be like without you? What would happen to them if they outlive you or your ability to care for them?
You can provide for your pets in the event of your mental incapacity. You can put instructions in your financial power of attorney so that your assets could be used not only to provide care for you, but also the care of Moose and Adonis.
If you have a Michigan trust, you can include similar provisions in your trust to take effect both during your mental incapacity and after your death. You can leave instructions for a pet trust to be established after your death. These instructions would set aside a certain portion of your trust assets for the care of Moose and Adonis for their lifetimes.
When determining the amounts to set aside in a pet trust, you must take into consideration the total costs of care and the life expectancies of your pets. With proper planning, Moose and Adonis are provided for and you are given piece of mind that your pets will not prematurely end up in the great kennel in the sky.
When setting up a pet trust, you must choose a trustee to manage the trust funds and pay your pets’ bills, and also a pet caregiver to find or make a home for your pets. The trustee of the pet trust and your pets’ caregiver are often the same, but does not necessarily need to be. Sometimes, it is best to separate the two functions. The person who may make a warm and loving home for your pets might not be the best money manager and vice versa.
When choosing a pet caregiver, first look to family and friends. Is there someone who knows your pet, is pet friendly or who previously has experience raising pets of their own. The caregiver could be one person or a series of persons. Maybe a group rotation would work. There should be backup caregivers in the event your initial caregiver becomes sick, ill or even dies before your pets.
Talk to prospective pet caregivers ahead of time. All of the caregivers you choose should be ready, willing and able to care for Moose and Adonis and find a home or take them into their home as their own pet. This care includes regular trips to the veterinarian and even making decisions about Moose or Adonis’ end-of-life care.
When you choose someone to care for your pet, it may be a great idea to stay in contact with them to make sure that they continue to be ready, willing and able to care for your pet. Circumstances change. Your caregiver may have moved into an apartment or condominium that does not allow pets or is otherwise unable to care for them.
If the caregiver currently has a pet, you might want to make sure Moose or Adonis gets along with the caregiver’s pets. You do not want Moose or Adonis and your caregiver’s pets to fight like cats and dogs.
If you have more than one pet, do you want your pets to be cared for in the same household? Maybe Moose and Adonis have bonded and they can’t live without one another. In such instance, if Moose and Adonis have to be separated after you are gone, not only have they lost you, but they would have also lost their best friend.
Your ultimate caregivers might not be able to care for Moose and Adonis immediately after your disability or death. You can also make arrangements for a temporary home for your pets during such time or in the event of your short-term illness.
If you have no one that can be Moose and Adonis’ caregivers, there are a number of sanctuary organizations which, for a fee, will care for Moose and Adonis for their lifetimes. Links to some sanctuary listings can be found on the resources page of the website of an organization called 2nd Chance for Pets at http://www.2ndchance4pets.org/resources.html.
To make it easier for your caregivers to take care of Moose and Adonis, you could provide a detailed letter of instructions. A link to a good pet care instruction checklist is provided by 2nd Chance 4 Pets and is on the same resources page of their website entitled Care Instruction Forms.
The instructions should include some basic information about your pet such as your pet’s name, birthdate, breed and medical history. You should also include a location list where all of Moose and Adonis’ records and pet paraphernalia are kept. You want to make sure all the veterinarian information is also listed. Has Moose or Adonis been micro-chipped or licensed? Include the identification numbers.
Does Moose or Adonis have any allergies to medications or food? For example, we had a cat once that could not eat any commercially prepared cat food without having bi-directional releases on our carpeting and rugs, but not on the kitchen vinyl flooring. We had to make up the cat food twice a week according to a veterinarian provided recipe, which included grinding up raw cow’s liver. Mmmm, tasty!
Does your pet have any fears? We had a dog once who would disappear around the fourth of July and hide because he was afraid of the loud sounds made by fireworks. How trained is your pet? To what commands does Moose or Adonis respond? Moose could be certified, such as a therapy dog. Moose may be trained in a language other than English. If so, list the commands to which Moose responds so that the caregivers know how to control him.
Moose and Adonis usually have a daily routine. When does Moose or Adonis go for a walk or go outside? Is Adonis an inside cat, an outside cat or does he come and go as he pleases? Does Moose get walked three times a day or every hour? What type of recreational activities do your pets enjoy? Does Moose like to fetch or go swimming?
Once you have provided for Moose or Adonis’ during their lifetimes, what do you want to happen after Moose or Adonis’ demise? Moose or Adonis can be buried, cremated or may be left at the veterinarian for disposal. You could leave it up to the caregiver. You may already have a burial plot in a pet cemetery for Moose and Adonis.
Moose and Adonis are a part of your family. You may want to include them in your estate plan just like any other family member. With proper planning, you do not have to worry about what will happen to Moose and Adonis after you are no longer able to care for them.
By Matthew M. Wallace, CPA, JD
Published edited March 18, 2018 in The Times Herald newspaper Port Huron, Michigan as: People can include family pets in their estate plans