Although we do not like to think about what will happen if we are not available to care for our pets, we should make plans for their care in case something does happen to us. There are a number of options available for you to consider. We have listed some of these.
"Designating a Caretaker"
You should identify a friend or relative willing to take his/her animal and give it a good home on the death of the pet owner. The matter should be discussed in advance with the potential caretaker to make sure the animal will be cared for appropriately. The person who will receive an animal as the result of a bequest in a Will should understand that he or she becomes the animal's owner and, as such, has all the rights and responsibilities of ownership.
The pet owner should then ask a qualified attorney to draft his/her Will, leaving the animal to the caretaker the pet owner has selected. It is best to name alternate care takers in the Will in case the first-named person is unable or unwilling to take the animal when the time comes.
Another alternative is to give the Executor the discretion to select from among several care takers prearranged and named by the pet owner in his/her Will.
"Providing Funds for Pet Care"
Generally, a pet is considered property, and therefore, a pet owner cannot leave any part of his or her assets outright to an animal. However, in his or her will, the owner may leave a sum of money to the person designated to care for the pet, along with a request (not a direction) that the money be used for the pet's care. It is important for the pet owner to select a caretaker he/she trusts and who will be devoted to the pet, because the caretaker has no legal obligation under the above provision to use the money for the purpose specified.
Another alternative is to create a trust for your pet. In this trust, the pet owner would name the designated caregiver as the beneficiary of the trust. Funds would be distributed by a Trustee to the caregiver only for the specified needs of the pet. This arrangement is legally enforceable and may be a better option for pet owners who do not feel comfortable giving money to a caretaker with a request the money be used to care for the pet.
"Designating a Shelter or Charitable Organization to Care for Pets"
If no friend or relative can be found to take the pet, the pet owner should look for a charitable organization, such as WAG, whose function is to care for or place companion animals. WAG accepts animals along with a cash bequest to cover expenses for caring for the animal.
The humane organization should agree to take care of the animal for its life or find an adoptive home for the animal. Before selecting a shelter, find out what kind of care animal receive at the shelter (for example, an animal should not have to stay for more than a short period in a cage). If the organization is directed to find an adoptive home for the companion animal in its care, the pet owner should obtain detailed information about the adoption procedure.
"Arrange for a Humane Organization to Provide Short-Term Care"
For more information on any of these provisions, please contact WAG.
There may be a shelter or humane organization with which arrangements can be made to care for a pet in the event of the death or hospitalization of the pet owner. Should the owner make such arrangements, shelter personnel would need written instructions addressed to the superintendent or building management and the key to permit them access. Similarly, the pet owner should leave written instructions in his/her home and with a relative or friend to notify the shelter (if a shelter is chosen) or the individual who has agreed to take care of the pet during this period.