If something happens to you - what happens to your animals?

It's not something anyone wants to think about, but we should - and need too. Many animals are killed in shelters because there were no provisions made when an accident took their owners away.

Article from The Wall Street Journal
Sept 7, 2012

Pondering a Trust for Your Pet


If you love your pet like a family member, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has some advice: Consider planning for your pet's future care as though the animal were a real dependent.

Under the law, pets are property, not living things in need of breakfast and a good scratch. That means your precious pooch or coddled cat could easily end up in a shelter—or worse—if you die or are unable to care for it.

That is an unpleasant prospect for the 62% of American households that have pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. Already, we spoil them, spending an estimated $53 billion on them this year, up 28% over the past five years.

This coming week, the ASPCA is teaming with online legal-documents provider to promote the company's Pet Protection Agreement, which identifies guardians for your pets, allows you to leave funds for their care and lets you list their caregivers, such as your veterinarian or groomer.

Both will benefit:
LegalZoom sells the agreements for $39 to $79 and the ASPCA will receive either 15% or 10% of the price, depending on where the buyer clicks from.

Still, the deal raises a difficult question: Who will take care of your pet if you can't?

Trusts-and-estates lawyers say that without at least an informal arrangement, you can't be sure what will happen to your pet. Family members might be unable to take it in, and your children or spouse might be willing to give the animal you adore nothing more than a ride to the local shelter.

Here are steps to take if you want to ensure your pet will have a good home:

Get a commitment. You need to ask any prospective caregiver to become your pet's guardian, rather than assume someone will step up and adopt it, says Kim Bressant-Kibwe, trusts-and-estates counsel at the ASPCA.

Rachel Hirschfeld, who created the Pet Protection Agreement, suggests identifying two or three potential guardians, since people move and their situations change.

If no one will commit, seek out a local shelter or rescue organization that will take the pet and find it a new home. Some organizations might require or request a donation to cover their costs to care for and place the animal.

Put it in writing. A handshake might be enough if you trust the person, says David Neufeld, a lawyer in Princeton, N.J. Otherwise, draft a letter or formal agreement for your current pet and any pets you may acquire to be signed by you and the future guardian. The agreement should be copied and shared with family members and your vet, so that everyone knows the plan.

Lawyers discourage putting such instructions in a will, since those can be challenged and may take months or years to be settled—and your pet will need attention well before that.

Amend your power-of-attorney documents. If you are hospitalized or disabled, a friend might not be able to care for your pets without formal permission. In addition, you may want to authorize that some money could be spent for the pet's care, if needed.

Create a pet dossier. This seemed like a kooky idea, until I considered our mutt, Jefferson. Until he died last month at age 15, he was on a special diet and three medications for arthritis. Our children weren't in a position to take him, and no one else would have known his particular affection for chicken.

The instructions should include contact information for the vet, pet sitter, groomer and other service providers, plus details about vaccinations, medicines and the pet's likes and dislikes. Save a copy with other important papers and give a copy to your potential guardians.

Consider coughing up some money. You might want to provide funds for your pet's future care, especially if it has medical needs or you want special services, like regular dog-walking or doggy day care.

But never leave money to the animal outright. For amounts of, say, $25,000 or more, you can create a pet trust, naming a trustee to manage the money, who may be separate from the caretaker. You should also specify where any money remaining will go when the pet passes away.

Four states don't specifically recognize pet trusts—Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Mississippi—and state laws differ, so you will need a lawyer, which could cost from several hundred dollars to as much as $2,000.

You also can leave funds in your will to the caregiver with the request that they be used for the pet, though some states don't allow bequests with strings attached.

If you leave a significant amount for your pet, you should consider a no-contest clause for other beneficiaries, which deletes their share if they fight your wishes, says Mary O'Reilly, a Mineola, N.Y., trusts-and-estates lawyer. Often, she says, "there's not a lot of sympathy when grandma gives her estate to her cat."