18 March 2016

Care for Pets

Pets are an important part of many people’s lives. If you are one of those people, what would happen to your pets if you died or became disabled?  What would happen if your spouse is not around to care for the animal?

The pet owner needs to provide for two different scenarios.  One scenario is where the person is temporarily unavailable to take care of his or her animal.  In advance of a need, the pet owner needs to find a caregiver to take care of the animal for a limited time.  There should be a procedure so the caregiver knows that they need to take action.

The pet owner may want to tell other people such as neighbors and the veterinarian of the arrangement so they know to tell the pet caregiver in the case of an emergency.  Also, the pet owner may want to put in their wallet the name and phone number of the person and their role as emergency pet caretaker.  An example of information for a person to include in his or her wallet is at the end of the post.  In addition, the emergency pet caregiver should have a list with contact information for the pet’s veterinarian, the pet’s feeding instructions and any of the pet’s medications or dietary restrictions (i.e. a “care list”).  A sample list is attached to this post.  The pet owner needs to discuss this arrangement in advance with the primary and alternative caregivers.  The pet owner would need a copy of the care list described above.  Also, the owner needs to keep this list available in their residence in case the caregivers cannot find their lists.

If the caregiver will care for the animal in the owner’s home, the pet owner needs to provide a power of attorney that allows the caregiver to access the owner’s home. The pet owner should make sure that the caregiver has a key, security passwords or anything else necessary to get physical access to the property.  The owner may want to give the caregiver the authority to hire other caregivers, such as dog walkers.  The pet owner may want to provide for compensation and expense reimbursement for the caregiver.  The owner should name an alternate person to take on these responsibilities if the first person named is unavailable.  These matters may be addressed in a special power of attorney for pet care.

A second scenario is where the pet owner will become unable to care for the pet permanently.  Obviously, this happens when the pet owner passes away.  This can also occur when a person requires institutional care—i.e., assisted living or a nursing home.  Although some institutions realize the importance of not separating a pet owner from his or her pet, most institutions will not allow the pet owner to keep the pet.  A great alternative is if there is someone who will permanently care for the pet.  In that situation, the pet owner may adopt different arrangements, such as a pet trust that can cover the cost of caring for the animal as part of their estate plan.  The benefit of a pet trust is that it typically will provide greater assurance that someone will care for the pet.  The pet trust can provide compensation for the caregiver and funds to cover the pet’s expenses.

Sometimes no one is willing to care for a pet for the rest of its life.  There are organizations that will take on this responsibility for compensation.  An owner must expressly provide for this arrangement, typically in a trust or will.

We are happy to help people with these issues as part of their estate plan.