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Planning for your pet's welfare upon death or disability

Business Law

Posted: April 4, 2008 10:47 p.m.
Updated: June 5, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
What happens to your pet if you become incapacitated or die? We have seen many beloved pets abandoned or taken to the animal shelter because an owner has failed to include provisions for the care of their animals in their estate planning documents.

To protect your pets, consider including a provision for your agent under a power of attorney to not only pay your bills while you are incapacitated, but care and pay for the needs of your pet. Sample language suggested by, Cynthia L. Barrett, an Oregon attorney, can be inserted in your power of attorney:

"My agent is authorized to make expenditures for my own care, maintenance, support and general welfare, and for the care and support of my domestic pet SPUNKY, including arranging for his regular exercise, grooming, veterinary care and special dietary needs, if any. I authorize payment from my funds
for pet care provided by relatives, care providers or professional pet care services."

You should also consider naming the person or persons who will be given your animals upon your death in your testamentary documents, whether it be a will or a trust.

Provide funds
It is wise to provide a gift of funds necessary to support the pet during its natural lifetime. However, a gift to a person requesting care for your animal provides no guarantee the person receiving the pet will actually use the funds to support the animal.

You can consider using a derivative of this example: "I leave my dog MAIA and my cat, HENRIETTA, or any other domestic pets which I may own at the time of my death, to GOOD FRIEND, together with the sum of
$$$$ which I ask GOOD FRIEND to use for their medical care and support. If GOOD FRIEND is unable or unwilling to care for the pets, this gift shall lapse and I direct my personal representative to arrange a suitable home for my domestic pets and to prepay their natural lifetime projected medical care and food costs by contractual arrangement with the person taking the animals and veterinary care providers, with due attention to my devotion to the animals. I ask my personal representative to act as I would were I there to make arrangements for the animals. I authorize the use of up to $$$$$ from my funds for these contractual arrangements with pet care providers."

Establish a trust
Although you may not make your animal a beneficiary under your will, you now can establish a trust for a specific pet under California probate Code Section 15212. This section allows a trust to be established for the care of a designated domestic animal or pet.

However, the trust must terminate on the death of the animal.

There are some Web sites to visit regarding planning for your pet's care. Estateplanningforpets.org provides detailed information about pet-care options, including a pet-care cost calculator.

2ndchance4pets.org is a nonprofit that helps make sure your pets are taken care of when you cannot care for them yourself.

Aspca.org/pettrust has a question and answer section on pet trusts and hsus.org/petsinwills, the Humane Society Web site, has a free kit for pet planning.

For many individuals, their pets are a source of great joy and comfort. Including your pet in your estate planning makes more than sense - it is critical to ensure that loving pet owners meet their responsibility to their animals.

Gina MacDonald is a lawyer whose practice is concentrated in the areas of estate planning, probate, family and elder law. Her column represents her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Business Law" appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association. Visit www.SCVBar.org.

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