It’s a sad fact that more than 500,000 pets are euthanized each year due to their owner’s disability or death. The Humane Society of the US estimates that 47% of American households own pets, with a total of 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 cats. How many pet owners have planned for their pets? My unofficial estimate, based on more than thirty years of estate planning, is less than 1%. Have you given this any thought? Probably not. I tell my clients to plan for their pets the same way they would plan for a young child. Think about who would be willing to take custody of your pet and then talk to that person. And remember that it costs money to care for your pet.
If you have visited my office, you have probably met Sam, my six year old cocker spaniel. Like most cockers, he has chronic medical problems and food allergies. Nothing life threatening, but his dog food (rabbit and potato kibble) costs $69 for a 17 pound bag and he visits the vet at least four times a year. I was shocked when I added up Sam’s bills from last year – over $2,000 for vet bills, daycare, grooming, fancy dog food, treats, and toys. That’s why we call him “the little prince”.
Which brings me to another planning tip. Thousands of pets were abandoned after the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. People were laid off and saw their savings shrink or disappear. Caring for their pets became a luxury that they couldn’t afford. People should be aware that there is financial assistance available for their pet’s care. In Massachusetts, there are non-profit organizations, many of them local, that run pet food stamp programs, pet food pantries, pet food meals on wheels, and provide low cost or free medical care. If you have lost your job or are a low income senior unable to make ends meet, don’t give you on your pet. Look into these programs at www.massresources.org/pet-care-assistance.html.
I have taken my own advice. My assistant, Jeanne, gladly took care of Sam when I had knee surgery two years ago. She has agreed to take Sam if something happens to me and my husband. I have named her as Sam’s guardian in our Wills and have directed that she be given $20,000 to pay for his care, in the style to which he is accustomed. I am lucky. Not everyone has someone like Jeanne.
So think of your pet like a young child. In your Will or Trust, name someone to take custody of your pet and give them sufficient funds to pay for their care. Talk to that person first, to make sure that they are willing. If you don’t have anyone, you can name an organization that can place your pet if you become incapacited or after your death, and leave appropriate instructions in your Power of Attorney or Will. In Massachusetts, you may establish a trust for your pet. You can’t leave your money directly to your pet, but you can name a Trustee who will manage your pet’s inheritance after your death. For more information about estate planning for pets, see Estate Planning To Protect Your Pets.