Pet trusts protect animals if they outlive their owners

According to the 2012 AVMA pet ownership survey, there are some 164 million cats and dogs in homes across the U.S., and attorneys Elizabeth Carrie and Robert Kass recommend that pet owners plan for the possibility that they may no longer be able to care for their animals. Naming a caregiver, providing detailed pet care instructions and dedicating money specifically to the pet’s care are all important parts of the plan, according to Kass and Carrie. Bundling all the essentials into a specific, separate trust is the best way to ensure the plan will be implemented in the manner the owner intends, they said. Fox Business

If you’re a parent, odds are you’ve thought about the unthinkable: Who will  raise your children if something happens to you? Who do you trust to love and  care for them the way you would? How do you provide the money needed and ensure  that it will be used properly?

These concerns also come into play if you become disabled, even temporarily.  Who can you depend on to step in until you recover?

Now consider this: there are three times as many households in the  U.S. that have pets than have children- 57%, according to the American  Veterinary Medicine Association’s 2012 survey.

Compared to the 28 million children living in this country, Americans own  more than 164 million cats and dogs. Adding birds to the mix brings the total to  nearly 181 million pets (not to mention horses, small animals, fish,  etc.).

For many of us, our pets are our “children.” And, if you want to know they  will be properly cared for in the event you can no longer do this yourself,  Detroit attorneys Robert Kass and Elizabeth Carrie stress that you need to take  some basic steps to ensure your wishes will be carried out.

Kass cites the case of a woman who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.  Although her body wasn’t recovered for months, it took five days for co-workers  and neighbors to realize she was not just away on a trip, but actually missing.  During that time her cats were without food, water, and of course, their primary  human companion. “When the authorities finally went into her apartment, the cats  were crazed,” he says.

If no one steps forward to take in an animal that, for whatever reason, can  no longer be cared for by its owner, it is routinely taken to a shelter and put  up for adoption. That’s traumatic enough. Unfortunately, unless it is a “no-kill” shelter, if it isn’t adopted within a certain period of time, an  animal that was once your beloved pet, will be euthanized.

As Kass and Carrie point out in their book, Who Will Care when You’re Not  There?, the biggest mistake a pet owner makes is assuming she or he will  outlive her cat, dog, rabbit, African Grey. If you truly care about your pet,  that’s a pretty big risk. Depending upon your age and health, the life  expectancies of many species- parrots, for instance- make it very likely your  pet will outlive you.

Another potential disaster is assuming that your cousin (Fast) Eddie- who  always got along great with Fido on Thanksgiving visits- will: 1) know how to care for him (favorite toy, food allergies, medications, afraid of  thunder, etc.) and 2) be willing to do so, even when Fido grows old and  arthritic

While Eddie may, in fact, be an animal lover (he’s always been fond of the  horses- the Kentucky Derby and Belmont kind), there have been sporadic family  rumors about money problems. If you leave a bequest to cover the cost of Fido’s  care, are you certain Eddie will use it for this purpose?

In the event Eddie surprises the family and ends up being a flawless  replacement for you, what if he, himself, is incapacitated, hospitalized, or  dies? Naming a successor caregiver is essential, say Kass and Carrie.

There are various avenues you can take to provide for the care of your furry  and feathered “kids” if you become incapacitated. You can start with a Power of  Attorney, which, unlike a typical POA (which generally covers financial assets)  gives another individual the legal power to make decisions about your animal’s  care. This includes everything from moving it into their own home, to giving  them discretion to take it to the vet, and so forth. If the individual isn’t  familiar with the pet, it’s a good idea to attach an instruction sheet listing  the veterinarian and grooming names, the preferred type of food and any other  important notes about the pet to help it assimilate to a new home.

However, to be on the safe side, Kass and Carrie recommend creating a  free-standing trust, separate from the trust that deals with your material  possessions and human children. You can fund it with an amount of money that you  feel will cover the care of your pet(s) for the remainder of their lifetimes,  leaving anything that remains to, perhaps, a pet-affiliated charity. They  recommend using attachments to the trust since these can be easily amended as  your pets and the care they need change.

Ideally, you want to have an attorney with experience in pet planning and the  laws of your state draw up the documents. “If you can’t afford to do this,” says  Carrie, “ offers pet trusts online for less than $100.” This  document won’t be as customized, but it’s far better than nothing.

Consider everything you pet gives you- unconditionally and daily. Don’t you  want to be sure it will receive the care it needs if and when you’re not able to  provide it?

Ms. Buckner is a Retirement and Financial Planning Specialist and an  instructor in Franklin Templeton Investments’ global Academy. The views  expressed in this article are only those of Ms. Buckner or the individual  commentator identified therein, and are not necessarily the views of Franklin  Templeton Investments, which has not reviewed, and is not responsible for, the  content.

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