Providing for your pets after you are gone

From the American Animal Hospital Assocation

PenBay Vet's is an AAHA accredited veterinary hospital serving Camden, Rockport, Rockland and surrounding Midcoast Maine communities.

You just love your darling pet and are sure everyone else does, too. How could they not? So if you were to pass away or no longer be able to care for your pet, a family member or friend would certainly give him or her a good home, right?

Wrong, unfortunately.

“We have seen way too many cases where grandma thinks that a family member will step up and take the dog,” says Mary Palmer, president and rescue director of Northcentral Maltese Rescue, Racine, Wis. And it’s not just dogs.

In the U.S., there are 20.6 million birds, 95.6 million cats, 83.3 million dogs, 8.3 million horses, 11.5 million reptiles, 18.1 million small animals, 145 million freshwater fish, and 13.6 million saltwater fish as pets, according to the American Pet Products Association—a lot of beloved companions that could be left to uncertain futures.

That’s why it is important to plan for what will happen to a pet if you are no longer in the picture, says Palmer. “Don’t assume.”

Yet, according to a 2012 ASPCA study from a randomized telephone survey of 1,000 dog or cat guardians, only 17 percent have taken legal action to plan for the care of their pets. Most (53 percent) only speak to a friend or family member about taking care of the pet while 39 percent create a pet portfolio with pet care information.

Insufficient planning—not obtaining good advice and taking the time to plan properly—is the most common mistake people make, says Gerry W. Beyer, JD, LLM, JSD, Professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock. He is the co-author with Barry Seltzer of Fat Cats and Lucky Dogs: How to Leave (Some of) Your Estate to Your Pets.

Even a less formal—nonlegal and thus not enforceable—agreement is better than nothing at all. But that gift of a pet and money for his or her care to someone willing to accept the responsibility is unpredictable. It leaves no assurance that your pet will get the care you wanted.

Creating a legal plan for your pet is not difficult and is available to people at most income levels. Over the last few decades, most states have adopted some pet trust provisions.

One lower-cost option is the Pet Protection Agreement®, created by animal law attorney Rachel Hirschfeld. A collaboration of the ASPCA and LegalZoom, it is available online; starts at less than $50; and, according to the ASPCA, is legal in all states.

For those who prefer a one-on-one consultation with an attorney who has pet trust expertise, an “inter vivos” or “living” trust that takes effect while the owner is still alive or a testamentary trust that is part of a will are possibilities in many states. In states without pet trust provisions, there are other options. Neut Strandemo, founding partner of Strandemo, Sheridan & Dulas, P.A., in Eagan, Minn., has set up legal mechanisms for several pets over the years.

Experts also offered these suggestions:

  • If no one will take your pet, consider arranging for it to go to a respected rescue group. Palmer says the Northcentral group receives many requests from the relatives of elderly or deceased owners to take their maltese or maltese crosses. Many of these dogs might be older or with health problems that would make them likely to be euthanized if brought to most shelters.
  • Consider including specifics such as food and diet, daily routines, grooming, and compensation for the caretaker in your legal arrangement.
  • Provide information on how the pet can be identified as well as how to dispose of his or her remains.
  • Consider alternate caregivers in case the caretaker you intended becomes unavailable.

Written for AAHA by Maureen Blaney Flietner

Maureen Blaney Flietner loves animals. A former newspaper journalist, she is a writer, artist/designer, and photographer and lives in rural eastern Wisconsin.

PenBay Veterinary Associates is a proud member of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). For more information please visit or call 594-8300.

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