By Newport Beach Trust Attorney Darlynn Morgan
Earlier this year, a story about a dog in Virginia made national news. The dog was euthanized at the owner’s request. While stories of beloved pets being put to sleep aren’t usually newsworthy, this one made headlines because the dog was healthy and friendly. So why was he euthanized? Because it was in the owner’s will. The owner, a 67-year-old woman, passed away and wanted her dog buried with her. The will went uncontested and both the dog and his owner were cremated.
While this story does show that your pets can be included in your estate plan, having them euthanized isn’t quite the best way to go about it. Making arrangements for your pet’s care in the event of your death or incapacity is a much better idea. It may not seem necessary since most animals have a shorter life expectancy than we do, but we never know what the future holds.
Approximately two-thirds of households in America have a family pet, typically dogs and cats. For most people, our pets mean the world to us and we mean the world to them. The idea of them going hungry or being abandoned is heartbreaking. By leaving instructions in your will on who will care for your pet, you can prevent this from happening. Remember that the probate process could take a while, so make sure you have someone designated to pick up your pet and care for them in the short-term. Keep some kind of card in your wallet, letting people know that you have a pet at home and who to contact to take care of them.
A Pet Trust
Setting up a trust for your pet can help ensure that they are being taken care of after you’re gone. It can be included as part of your regular trust or it can be done separately. As part of the pet trust, you can name someone to be the caretaker, and you can arrange for the funding of your pet’s care as well as someone to distribute those funds if needed. It’s also a good idea to name a secondary caretaker in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to take care of your pet.
Power of Attorney for Pet Care
By setting up a Durable Power of Attorney, you can give someone else the authority to seek medical care for your pet if you should become incapacitated or are otherwise unavailable. Not only will this be helpful if something should happen to you, it’s also good to have on hand if you’re going to be traveling and leaving your pet in the temporary care of a sitter. The sitter or whoever you’ve granted Power of Attorney will then be able to have your pet treated in the event of an emergency.
Instructions for Care
Including a list of instructions for the care of your pet is also recommended. While these instructions can be included as part of your trust, it’s best to leave them in a separate document that is referenced by the trust. This allows you to update the instructions if your pet’s needs change without having to update the entire trust. Remember to include any information about medical needs, diet, allergies, grooming, likes and dislikes, and any quirks or traits your pet has. This will make the transition a lot smoother for your pet whether they’re going to be with someone they know or getting adopted by a new family.
For many people, a pet is more of a family member than a possession. If this happens to be the case for you, give yourself some peace of mind by knowing that they will be in good hands. If you need help getting started, contact our Newport Beach estate planning law firm at (949) 260-1400 to set up a consultation.