The relationship you share with your pet should last forever. But in case it doesn't, be prepared for his ongoing care.
Our collective jaws dropped when we heard the news that Leona Helmsley had left $12 million to her eight-year-old Maltese, Trouble. When "The Queen of Mean" died in 2007, she left behind a fortune valued at between $4 billion and $8 billion. While most of that money went to the Helmsley Charitable Trust, approximately $50 million was divided among three family members and her dog.
Snicker if you will, but Helmsley was actually ahead of the pack when she decided to plan ahead for the care of her four-legged family member after her death. In the past, most pet owners didn't think about making formal arrangements for their dogs in their wills. But that's all changing, according to David Congalton, co-author of When four Pet Outlives You: Protecting Animal Companions After You Die.
"Historically, the problem has been lack of awareness, but that's all changed in the last decade," Congalton says. "Most states now allow pet trusts, and the attitude towards protecting animals has completely changed in courts and legal circles."
Let's face it: None of us knows when we're going to die, and most of us assume that we will outline our dogs. Sadly, that's not always the case; a car accident or sudden illness might claim your life tomorrow. That's why it is vitally important to make arrangements now for the care of your pets, before you die or become incapacitated through injury or illness. These tips will help.
Providing Short-term Care
First, ask at least two responsible friends or family members to be temporary caregivers for your dog if something unexpected should happen to you. (Lining up more than one person gives you added security that at least one of them will he available to take care of your dog in an emergency.)
Give each person a key to your home as well as feeding and care instructions, the name and telephone number of your veterinarian and information about permanent care provisions you have made for your dog. Ideally, the short-term caregivers will already be familiar with your dog and any other animals in your household and should know how to contact one another. As an added precaution, carry a card in your wallet that lists the names and phone numbers of your pet caregivers so that emergency personnel will be able no contact them if you're unable to return home.
Setting Up Long-term Care
Next, consider whom you would like to care for your dog long-term. This might he your temporary caregiver or someone else. In most cases, a spouse, parent, adult child or close friend who knows and loves your dog will be the ideal choice. But if you don't have any family or friends willing to accept permanent guardianship of your dog, you might consider bequeathing a sum of money to cover his care and instructing that he be placed in a pet sanctuary or veterinary school pet center [or the Kerry Foundation]. The cost and level of care varies from center to center, so it's important to conduct a thorough investigation of the facility you're interested in before enrolling your dog. [...]
Once you have chosen temporary and permanent caregivers, sit down and discuss your wishes with them. Be sure they are aware of your dog's needs, such as a special diet or any health issues. If you have more than one dog or other pets in your household that have a close bond, try to make arrangements so they can stay together. Having a buddy will help make the transition a little easier for your dog.
Making a Will
Now that you have selected your dog's caregivers, it's time to make it official. Consult an estate planning attorney who can prepare the necessary documents that give specific instructions for the care and ownership of your dog. If you don't have a lawyer, ask your friends or family members for a recommendation, or consult the American Bat Association (www.abanet.org) for assistance in finding an attorney in your area. Although it's not necessary, many people set aside a sum of money to leave to the caregiver to pay for ongoing expenses, such as food and routine veterinary care.
Preparing a will that includes arrangements for your dog is vital, but many owners resist taking this important step.
"People don't want to think about what will happen if they die," says Christine Bellezza, DVM, a consultant with the Feline Health Center at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "It's a tough subject."
Failure to plan ahead can have disastrous results. Animals left behind when an owner dies often end up being surrendered to an animal shelter, where they may be euthanized, especially if they're older or have health problems.
"These animals go from being beloved family members to living all alone in a cage at a shelter," says Dr. Bellezza. "It's heartbreaking."
By taking time now to plan for your cat's future, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that she will be lovingly cared for when you are gone.