Our pets are often as much a beloved part of the family as are our children, yet they are all too often the forgotten loved ones when it comes to estate planning. With our nations senior population expected to double from 2012 to 2050, that means hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pets, are at risk.
Should we, or our loved one, need to be moved into a care facility, or worse, pass on, there should be a plan in place that has the pet’s and owner’s best interests in mind. In an owner’s’ sudden absence, animals can show signs of anxiety that may be mistaken for aggression, sadly resulting in being sent to an animal shelter or worse, put down. This would likely be devastating to the senior and not what they would want for their beloved pet.
Although you cant replace the seniors own voice, touch, how he/she plays with the pet, or just how he or she spends time walking the dog. The best that can be done is to have all of the alternatives well established in case the pet must be separated from its trusted friend.
A pet estate plan should include the following:
1. The Pets medications and health history must be clearly articulated.
Like humans, pets often take medications. Is there a medication list? Dosages identified? Times of administering the medications listed? Veterinarian identified? The emergency hospital identified? If the senior is incapacitated, these items cannot be communicated.
2. Alternative living locations must be identified.
If the senior needs to go to the hospital for a short stay, where will the pet live on a temporary basis? Is there a boarding home that has already been selected? Is there a friend or relative to be the caretaker for the pet until the senior returns?
If there is a catastrophic event with the senior, where he or she passes away or must move to a facility where pets are not allowed, where will the pet reside on a permanent basis? Has the pet been previously introduced to this person? Has the person consented in advance? Are there funds to support the pet identified in the seniors estate plan? If the worst happens, is there a no-kill shelter identified that will take the pet?
3. Pets attributes must be identified.
Tragically there are many animals that are needlessly killed or destroyed by others due to the pet not being understood. Dogs, in particular, can be possessive and territorial. They sense stress and tragedy and react as you would expect. Understanding the characteristics is important to protect the animal from needless harm since they cannot communicate on their own. Their character must be articulated and should include aggressive tendencies if any, their territorial nature, their habits, bowel habits, whether they are crate-trained, and other characteristics that may affect how the pet is treated by third parties under stressful conditions.
4. Pet records must be identified and accessible.
There is no Pet-Veterinarian Privilege but if the location of records and contact information is not available, then caring for the pet can be more difficult. Has the pet been inoculated? Are they current? Where are the records located? It is not uncommon for a pet to have had more than one Vet over its lifetime. The records may be scattered among several Veterinarian offices. Where are the records location? Is there a chip implant? What is the company name, code, and password to communicate with the chip company?
5. The pets diet and other food must be clearly identified.
What is the regular food, feeding times, amounts? Many pets have digestion issues if food is changed which can be very messy. Are allergies identified?
6. Pet provisions must be drafted into the seniors estate plan in case of death.
The people that will take the pet must be identified in the estate plan. Funding for the ongoing care needs to be clearly articulated.
After watching thousands of families struggle through the elder care process, I wrote a book and accompanying guide, including a chapter just on pets, that takes out all the guesswork for families starting their eldercare journey by packing all the necessary information into one place. Whether you go it alone or use an estate-planning attorney, I cant emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead.
To discuss any of your estate planning needs or learn more about pet trusts, click here to contact our office. Sallen Law, LLC proudly serves Philadelphia, the Main Line, Montgomery County, Chester County, Delaware County and Bucks County as well as southern New Jersey.