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What happens to your beloved pets when you can no longer care for them? Many people never take the time to prepare for just such an occurrence. If the pets are lucky a family member or friend will agree to take them in or they may end up with a no-kill rescue group. Unfortunately, many of these beloved pets end up in a shelter where their time is limited and they must fight to survive. At HART we have seen this tragedy repeated time and time again

When Bonnie and Basil’s caretaker died, their family turned them out of the house. Basil was found tied to a stake by the garbage dump and Bonnie was found running free. When Mikey, Nikki and Tabetha’s person went into a nursing home, all three were left in their home alone to fend for themselves. No one had been appointed to take care of them. The story is repeated over and over again, because many do not think to plan for their pet’s future without them.

Please do all you can to keep it from happening to you and your beloved pet. They are counting on you to provide for them for their entire life.

What can you do to protect your furry family member from this fate? There are several things. First of all you should take three important steps to assure that the animal will receive proper care immediately upon you being unable to look after the animal.

  • Carry an "animal card" in your wallet or purse. This card should contain information about the pet such as its name, type of animal, location where housed, and special care instructions along with the information necessary to contact someone who can obtain access to the pet. If you are injured or killed, emergency personnel will recognize that an animal is relying on your return for care and may notify the named person or take other steps to locate and provide for the animal. The animal card will help assure that the animal survives to the time when your plans for the pet’s long-term care take effect.

  • Next you should prepare an "animal document." The document should contain the same information as on the animal card and perhaps additional details as well. You should keep the animal document in the same location where you keep your estate planning documents. The benefit of this technique is basically the same as for carrying the animal card, that is, an enhanced likelihood that your desires regarding the pet will be made known to the appropriate person in a timely manner.

  • Finally, you should provide a sign regarding the pets on entrances to your home. These notices will alert individuals entering the house or apartment that pets are inside.

Now that you know your pets will be cared for immediately after an injury or your death, it is time to plan for their long term care.

Courts have disallowed most types of estate planning for pets. The result of this disallowance is that the attempted gift to the pet fails, and is instead redirected to another beneficiary of the decedent’s estate.

The reasons for the reluctance on the part of courts to allow estate planning for pets are technical. For instance, you cannot leave property to a pet in your will because a pet is property in the eyes of the law. For similar reasons, you cannot leave property in trust for a pet because, as property, a pet cannot hold equitable title to the property, nor enforce the trustee’s duties.

In addition to these reasons, trusts for pets violate the legal doctrine known as “the rule against perpetuities.” This rule prevents trusts from lasting forever by tying the term of the trust to the life of a beneficiary. To the great dismay of cats (who have nine lives) and other furry creatures, the rule requires that the term of the trust be measured in human lives.

So what can be done?

  • Designate Trust Beneficiary/Animal Caretaker  Thoughtfully select a caretaker for your pet. This person becomes the actual beneficiary of the trust. The caretaker should be sufficiently savvy to understand the basic functioning of a trust and his or her rights. Locate a beneficiary/caretaker who is willing and able to care for the animal in a manner that you would find acceptable. The prospective caretaker should be questioned before being named to make certain the caretaker will assume the obligation of caring for the pet, especially when the pet is in need of medical care or requires special attention as it ages. The pet and the prospective caretaker should meet and spend quality time together to make sure they, and the caretaker’s family, get along harmoniously with each other. You should name several alternate caretakers should the first choice be unable to serve for the duration of the pet’s life. To prevent the pet from ending up homeless, you may authorize the trustee to select a good home for the pet should none of the named individuals be willing or able to accept the animal.

  • Nominate Trustee  Select the trustee with care and check with the trustee before making a nomination. The trustee, whether individual or corporate, must be willing to administer the property for the benefit of the pet and to expend the time and effort necessary to deal with trust administration matters. Name alternate trustees should the named trustee be unable to serve until the trust terminates.

  • Bequeath Animal to Trustee, in Trust  Bequeath the animal to the trustee, in trust, with directions to deliver custody of the pet to the beneficiary/caretaker. If you have left instructions in an animal card or document, the pet may actually already be in the possession of the caretaker.

  • Determine Amount of Other Property to Transfer to Trust  Carefully compute the amount of property necessary to care for the animal and to provide additional payments, if any, for the caretaker and the trustee. Many factors will go into this decision such as the type of animal, the animal’s life expectancy, the standard of living you wish to provide for the animal, and the need for potentially expensive medical treatment. Adequate funds should also be included to provide proper care, be it a pet-sitter or a boarding facility, when the caretaker is on vacation, out-of-town on business, receiving care in a hospital, or is otherwise temporarily unable to personally provide for the pet.

  • Describe Desired Standard of Living  Specify the type of care the beneficiary is to give the animal and the expenses for which the caretaker can expect reimbursement from the trust. Typical expenses would include food, housing, grooming, medical care, and burial or cremation fees. You may also want to include more detailed instructions.

  • Specify Distribution Method  Specify how the trustee is to make disbursements from the trust.

  • Establish Additional Distributions for Caretaker  Determine whether the trustee should make distributions to the caretaker above and beyond the amount established for the animal’s care. The caretaker may feel more duty bound to provide good care if the caretaker is receiving additional distributions contingent on providing appropriate care.

  • Limit Duration of Trust  The duration of the trust should not be linked to the life of the pet. The measuring life of a trust must be a human being unless state law has enacted specific statutes for animal trusts or has modified or abolished the rule against perpetuities.

  • Designate Remainder Beneficiary  Clearly designate a remainder beneficiary to take any remaining trust property upon the death of the pet. Otherwise, court involvement will be necessary with the most likely result being a resulting trust for the benefit of the owner’s successor’s in interest. You may wish to consider naming a charity which benefits animals as the remainder beneficiary. You must precisely state the legal name and location of the intended charitable beneficiary so the trustee will not have difficulty ascertaining the appropriate recipient of the remainder gift.

  • Identify Animal to Prevent Fraud  Clearly identify the pet which is to receive care under the trust. If this step is not taken, an unscrupulous caretaker could replace a deceased, lost, or stolen pet with a replacement so that the caretaker may continue to receive benefits.

  • Require Trustee to Inspect on a Regular Basis  Require the trustee to make regular inspections of the pet to determine its physical and psychological condition. The inspections should be at random times so the caretaker does not provide the pet with extra food, medical care, or attention merely because the caretaker knows the trustee is coming. The inspections should take place in the caretaker’s home so the trustee may observe first-hand the environment in which the pet is being kept.

  • Provide Instructions for Final Disposition of Animal  Include instructions for the final disposition of your beloved pet when they die.