September 13th, 2021
The following is intended to provide general information as a helpful guide you can use to protect your animals, and is not intended to be legal advice. State laws regarding estates and the “ownership” of animals vary widely. RedRover urges you to consult a qualified attorney whenever executing legal documents. For further information or assistance with your bequests and trusts, please contact our membership services department.
Life is too often unpredictable. You need to plan in advance for the care of your dog, cat, or other companion animal in the event of your sudden hospitalization, incapacitation, or death.
Consider the following when you plan for your companion animal. If you have more than one animal, you may need separate caregivers and individualized plans.
What if you were suddenly hospitalized for a week or a month? Automobile accidents, heart attacks, and numerous other misfortunes can occur without warning. You need to plan in advance who will have the authority to enter your home, permission to provide veterinary care, and to feed and care for your animal. You could be unconscious in the hospital while your animal is alone, with no food or water, waiting patiently for you to return. You can prevent this tragic scenario.
1. Select someone you trust to act as your emergency agent and caregiver. Usually, the best person will be a friend, relative, or neighbor. But in the absence of such a person, you might also consider a local humane society, animal protective organization, or rescue society. Reputable pet sitters (always ask for their references) listed in the phone book or classified advertising section of your community newspaper may also qualify, but expect to pay a fee for this service.
2. Meet with your selected caregiver to discuss your animal’s needs. Your caregiver will need a key to your home, or know how to gain access. As an alternative, you can give this person a signed document with permission to obtain your keys at the hospital or any other facility in which you may be located.
3. Discuss all the special needs of your animal. Put all of this information in writing and give one copy to your caregiver and keep a second copy in your home where it can be easily found. Here are some examples of subjects you should discuss:
4. Discuss payments for food, medicine, veterinary medical care, and grooming. Never take for granted that your caregiver will be able to afford these expenses with the expectation that they will be reimbursed later. If your illness or injury takes a fatal turn, your caregiver may not be able to continue.
Providing short-term funds for the temporary care of your animal can become complicated, so it is best to get legal help. Your attorney might suggest an interest-bearing checking account held in trust. (It is usually not a good idea to give money to your caregiver in advance and expect these funds to be held for an emergency that may never occur.)
There is one other option: you might write a check and make it payable to your caregiver, and keep it in a mutually agreed place in your home. In the event of an emergency, your caregiver can then obtain the check to cover out-of-pocket expenses. Depending on the needs of your animal, you should provide for at least 30 days of expenses. Caution: checks over 90 days old may not be honored by your bank. Leave the date blank, to be filled in later. The Power of Attorney form at the end of this brochure also gives your caregiver permission to obtain veterinary medical care for your animal and to administer prescription medication. Give your veterinarian a copy of this document to place in your patient file.
5. Regularly review (annually is not too often) and update all arrangements. The needs of your animal may change, your designated caregiver may move, or any number of things can happen, which will invalidate your plans.
6. Designate at least one alternate caregiver. Your primary caregiver could be unavailable the day you are suddenly hospitalized, or any number of other problems could cause this individual to be unable to perform agreed tasks.
You need to follow all the same steps with your alternate as you did with your primary caregiver. It is also suggested that primary and alternate caregivers know the name, address, and phone number of one another in case either of these individuals are unable to fulfill their commitment to you and to your animal.
Your Long-Term Plan: Provisions in Your Will
There are two periods after your death during which your companion animal will need to be provided for.
1. Interim Period. The first period is the interim time between your death and when your will is admitted to probate, following which the executor is given the authority to proceed with your wishes. During this interim period—anywhere from several weeks to several months—your companion animal will not benefit from any provisions you’ve established in your will.
You need to make advance provisions for this interim time. Discuss with your attorney how you will financially provide for your animal until your will is admitted to probate. To assure that your interim caregiver will be paid, your will should state that the costs of food, veterinary care, transportation, and other expenses be paid from your estate.
The second period of concern occurs after your will is admitted to probate. This is where you need to provide for the long-term care of your animal companion.
2. Adoption. If someone has agreed to adopt your animal then you should name that person in your will. It is best to name one or two alternates, in order of preference, in case one of them is unable to fulfill the obligations of care. You can also name several people in no particular order of preference and instruct that your executor has the authority to select the best one.
You might also wish to designate a portion of your estate to provide for the long-term care of your animal. Although you cannot legally leave money to an animal, you can leave it to a caregiver with a request that the money is restricted to the care of your animal.
Some states, such as California , allow the creation of an “honorary trust” which is set up to provide for the long-term care of animals. If you choose this method, be sure you select a trustee whom you can trust because there is no way to monitor expenditures.
In other states, you can set up a trust for a human beneficiary with the provision that trustees use your estate to pay for the care of a specific animal.
In all cases, it is important that you select someone trustworthy and devoted to animals, because once this person becomes the new “owner,” in the eyes of the law all rights to the animal belong to this person, including the right of euthanasia.
A note of caution: RedRover suggests that you do not leave an unreasonably large sum of money for the care of your animal. This may prompt your relatives to challenge your will, which could then be invalidated by the court.
If you have no one suitable to adopt your companion animal, you might want to consider an animal shelter or adoption society. You should designate a cash bequest to cover expenses, and you should discuss all arrangements with the organization’s director. It is also very important that you:
All the advanced planning in the world will do absolutely no good if you die or become incapacitated and your selected caregiver doesn’t know for several days. Download, print, complete and carry this alert in your wallet at all times.