Making a will is a necessary part of life, however unpleasant. Especially if one has children, expressing your wishes for them once you've kicked the bucket is extremely important. But what about our pets? Many of us consider them to be our children, and some of us have them in lieu of children. What can you do to ensure your pets are provided for in the event of your death?
This question was raised in my mind recently when a long-standing client called me before heading into the hospital for risky brain surgery. She asked me "if something happens, will you take my dogs?" She even set up a trust, of sorts, so they wouldn't be a financial burden to me. Of course, I said yes. (She came out of surgery just fine, incidentally, so she is still happily with her fur babies.)
What would happen to your pets, should you pass unexpectedly? How can you make sure they are provided for?
The first step is to ask a trusted animal-lover if they would be willing to adopt your animals. Although your pets may not last as long as human children, taking them on is a huge commitment, so make sure the person you choose understands and is willing to accept that. Also make sure they are aware of any special medical needs or issues your pet has and that they can handle them. Someone with a fear of needles may not be able to provide insulin injections for your diabetic cat. Know whether the person you have chosen is willing to take the animals in, himself, or if he intends to foster them until he can find an appropriate home. Express your wishes to have your animals kept together if that is important. Regardless of your specific circumstances, you'll want to be sure your expectations are clear and that you understand the intentions of the caretaker you choose.
In your will, you should indicate the person you choose, as well as a couple of alternate caretakers, should your primary caretaker be unable or unwilling to adopt your animals if the time comes.
In the U.S., a pet owner may not leave money to a pet. Instead, any funds you would like to leave for your pet may be left for the caretaker who adopts your pet. You can leave a sum of money or a percentage of your estate to that person with a request that they use the funds for the care of your animal. The caretaker has no legal obligation to use the money as requested, and you may not provide a directive, so it is important that you trust the person you choose to care for your pet. In order to avoid a potential challenge of the provisions of the will by other family members or otherwise involved parties, only a reasonable amount of money to care for the animal should be left to the caretaker. These funds may cover the cost of veterinary care, medications, food, grooming, boarding, etc.
If your trusted family members and friends aren't the animal-loving types, you can name a shelter or charity to care for your pet in the event of your death. Obviously, this isn't ideal, as shelters are already overcrowded, but it is a preferable alternative to doing nothing.
Some pet owners would rather their pets be euthanized than meet the fate of a bad home. This desire can be expressed in your will and to your pet's intended caregiver, but the caregiver is under no legal obligation to euthanize the animal.
The person your designate as your pet's caregiver will become the owner and will have all rights and decision-making power as any other pet owner, so choose wisely.
I hate thinking about what might happen to my animals (let's not even mention the human kids, here), should something happen to my husband and I. It's one of the most unpleasant things I can think of. But it's important.
I need to get on that.
Is your pet named in your will? How have you made decisions about what should happen to your pet in the event of your death?