Don’t Forget Fluffy and Fido in Your Estate Plan!
By Abigail Neal, Arizona Pet Trust Lawyer
Does your pet deserve $12 million? Leona Helmsley thought so when she left her dog Trouble $12 million after she passed away. While you might not have $12 million to leave to your pet, you don’t have to be a millionaire to want the best for your pets if you become ill, disabled or pass away. Since 62% of all U.S. households have at least one pet, this is a big issue that affects many Americans and their furry family members.
Lots of us consider our pets to be members of the family. Why? Pets enrich our lives. And, studies have shown that owning a pet provides a number of health benefits. First, they provide companionship that is so crucial for us humans which may lead to greater psychological stability. Studies show that this may offer some protection from heart disease. People with high blood pressure who own a dog or cat may have lower blood pressure readings in difficult situations than non-pet owners. Overall, the impact of stressful situations takes more of a toll on non-pet owners than pet owners. Pet owners actually make fewer doctor visits and ultimately have lower health care costs. And, pet companionship can combat loneliness and depression.
It’s easy to see how pets become treasured members of the family. Just like your other family members, you love your pet and provide it with food, water, a nice place to sleep and medical care. But have you thought about what would happen to your pet if you become ill or pass away? Who will take care of your pet? How will your pet’s expenses be paid? How can you make sure that your pet is left in the best possible care? With a Pet Trust from the Neal Law Firm, you can rest assured that your furry and feathered family members are in good hands and well taken care of after you’re gone.
What Happens to Pets When the Owner Becomes Disabled or Passes Away?
Since pets typically don’t live as long as their human family members, you might not have considered what might happen if you become sick or disabled or pass away first? Who will care for Fluffy and Fido?
Failing to plan for your pet can have unfortunate consequences. It’s probably safe to assume that most people don’t want their healthy and happy pets euthanized if they become disabled or pass away. Unfortunately, this is often what happens. If a person doesn’t make plans for their pet’s care after they’re gone, their pet could end up in the local animal control facility and euthanized. Some shelters will euthanize an animal as quickly as 72 hours after the animal arrives. This makes potential adoptions nearly impossible. Sadly, statistics show that more than half of the animals surrendered to shelters are euthanized. Of all pets in shelters, 3% are surrendered because the owner is no longer able to care for his or her pet due to disability or because the owner has died. In the U.S., this means that nearly 300,000 dogs and 150,000 cats each year are surrendered to shelters because the pet’s owner has died or become disabled. More than half of them will be euthanized. As an owner of a dog and a cat, this just makes me sick.
Pets can often be overlooked in the chaos that follows an unexpected illness, accident or death. Pets may be discovered days after a tragedy in an owner’s home, alone, forgotten and scared. No one wants this to happen to their animal family members. Thankfully, you can ensure that your pet will have the best possible care, even if you can’t provide it yourself, by creating both short term and a long term plans for your pet’s care.
Simple Steps To Protect Your Pets
The Humane Society of the United States recommends taking these simple short term steps to ensure your pet won’t be forgotten and will receive the proper care:
1. Find at least two responsible friends or family members you trust who agree to be emergency pet caregivers if something happens to you. Provide them with everything they will need to care for your pet: keys to your home (or instructions on where to find them), instructions on how to feed and care for your pets, the name and phone number of your pet’s veterinarian and information about the long term care plans you have made for your pet. This could be as easy as telling a neighbor that the house key is under the flower pot and taping instructions near where you keep your pet’s food. This is simple, easy and free, and you will have the peace of mind knowing that your pet won’t be alone, scared and forgotten.
2. If they don’t already know, tell your neighbors, friends and family members about your pet(s). These people should have the names and numbers of your emergency caregivers so they can alert them if you become unable to care for your pet.
3. Post “in case of emergency” notices to your doors or windows alerting firefighters and other emergency responders that you have pets. Keep the notice current and be sure to list how what types and how many pets you have.
4. Put a note inside your home in an easy to find spot (inside front or back doors or on your refrigerator) that lists emergency contact names and numbers.
Since your pets are totally dependent on you for life sustaining care like food and water, it is absolutely critical that they receive immediate attention. Taking these simple steps will go a long way to making sure your pets get the care they need.
Create A Trust For Your Pets
Even though we treat our pets like family members, the law treats them as property. As a result, a person can’t leave money outright to a pet since property can’t own other property. Although you can always leave money to someone requesting that they take care of your pet, if the money was left outright and not in a trust there is no way to make sure that your pet actually receives the care you requested. Instead, the caregiver can easily take the money and drop your pet off at the shelter. Worse, they could have it euthanized, or just leave it on the street. And, the funds you left for your pet’s care can actually end up taken by a creditor if your caregiver gets sued!
The best solution is to create a pet trust. Arizona has laws allowing people to leave money for their pet’s care in trust. A pet trust is an agreement that states how you want your pet to be cared for, who will be responsible for caring for your pet, and how the pet’s care will be paid for. You just leave the money in trust to care for your pet.
Arizona and some other states limit the amount of money you can leave in the trust to care for your pet. If that amount is exceeded, any additional funds will be distributed to your beneficiaries. This is what happened when the “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley $12 million for her dog’s care. In that case, the judge reduced the amount to $2 million and gave the remaining funds to Helmsely’s beneficiaries. Despite this, the pampered pooch went on to live a long and happy life of luxury until his death in 2010.
Your pet’s standard of living will determine how much is needed for their care. What does this mean? This means the cost of food, treats, toys, pet sitting or day care, veterinary care (exams, vaccinations, medications, teeth cleaning and emergency care), grooming, boarding, insurance and travel expenses. If your pet has special needs is might require additional specialized care. For example, horses require special shelter and room to exercise, and fish and reptiles require special tanks and aquariums. Plan for the needs of your particular pet.
There are lots of benefits to creating a pet trust. Your trustee can use the funds in trust immediately to care for your pet not only if you die, but also if you become sick or disabled. This is because assets left in trust avoid probate, so funds are available much sooner to care for your pet. Without a trust, it could be a good amount of time before your caregivers can access the funds you designate for your pet’s care. A pet trust also gives you the added benefit of being able to specifically designate how you want your pet to be cared for and who should manage the funds in your pet trust.
Consider these things when planning for your pet:
1. Who will be your pet’s caregiver? Should all of your pets go to the same person, or should different pets be cared for by different people? Most people prefer to keep pets with their pet buddies, but sometimes that isn’t possible. Look for people you know and trust. And it’s important to pick who like pets! Be sure to talk about your plans for your pet’s care with potential caregivers to make sure they are up to the job. Most importantly, make sure you choose someone who will make decisions in the best interest of your pet. Think about naming some alternate caregivers as well in case your first choice is unable to care for your pet.
2. Who will be the trustee of your pet trust? Your pet trust trustee will need to manage the funds in trust and distribute those funds to the caregiver. The trustee also provides oversight to make sure that the caregiver is properly using the trust assets to care for your pet.
4. Do you want to pay your pet’s caregiver for caring for your pet? Maybe you want to let the caregiver live in your home, rent free while he or she cares for your pet. Also, should your pet’s caregiver get a bonus at the end of your pet’s life as a thank you gesture?
5. How should any funds in trust be distributed if there are funds left after the pet’s death?
Hire The Neal Law Firm To Prepare Your Pet Trust
A Pet Trust is the best step you can take to ensure that your pets are well taken care of when you can’t do so yourself. We offer both stand alone pet trusts and pet trusts as part of a revocable living trust. Call Arizona pet trust lawyer Abigail Neal to get started.
If you have any questions about Arizona estate planning, the process, fees or anything else call us at (480) 699-7992.