We Americans love our pets. The ASPCA estimates that we own 78 million dogs and 85 million cats. Animals are part of our families and we spend a great deal of time and money to take care of our pets, buying pet food, toys and clothing. For millions of people who live on their own, pets can be an irreplaceable companion. However, when it comes to planning for emergencies and death, we often overlook our four-legged family member. What should you think about when it comes to planning for pets?
First, think about what might happen in an emergency. A car accident, stroke, heart attack or injury is the type of sudden and unexpected event that does not allow you time to plan for your pet's care. You might be unconscious or too ill to communicate your concerns about your pet waiting at home. If you are taken to hospital, you can assume that your family's first concern is getting to you. In the heat of the emergency, your dog or cat might be the last thing on your family's mind. If you live on your own and have an emergency, no one might know that you have an animal at home.
The best idea is to make a contingency plan for your pet ahead of time. Designate a neighbor or family member to take care of your pet if you are involved in an emergency. Make sure someone knows to do a welfare check and are prepared to take the animal out of your home on a temporary basis. If you have pets that can be left at home such as cats, rodents or fish, plan for someone to have access to your house key so that the pets can be fed on a daily basis.
What about planning for your pet in the event of your death? Think about who you would like to have your pet after you death. Just as importantly, make sure that the person you designate is willing and able to take the animal. You might adore your 100lb Newfoundland dog, but your daughter in Chicago might not be willing to take on such a large animal in her small second-floor apartment. You might need to think of someone with the room and yard to take on a large animal. Also make sure that the person you may want to care for your animal doesn't have an allergy that might prevent them from doing so. When you have found the right person to care for your pet and they have agreed to do so, you can nominate this person in your trust or will to be the beneficiary of your pet.
Also consider the cost of keeping a pet for the person you designate after your death. Food and vet bills can add up fast, especialy if you have an older pet. Think about leaving a sum of money in your will or trust to the person who will look after your pet when you die.
You love your pet like family. Make sure that you treat your beloved animal like a family member in your estate plans.
Suzanne R. Fanning is a probate, trust and estate attorney in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has an enormous black lab called Charlie who follows her like a shadow and eats like a horse.