Who will walk your dog when you’re gone?

As a society, we’re known for our love of animals. The amount of money spent every year on our pets, including food, supplies, and toys now exceeds $41,000,000,000.00. There are approximately 72,000,000 domesticated dogs in the US. It’s not surprising that as a society, we’re considering the welfare of our companions once we’re gone.

In 2006, Pennsylvania joined the growing number of states recognizing that some pet owners want to provide for the needs of their pets by passing legislation that recognizes a trusts as a binding instrument. A “PET TRUST” is constructed like any other trust, but concentrates on the anticipated needs of the pet. Your trust appoints someone as trustee, and preferably, someone else as the animals’ caregiver. Direction is given regarding the care you wish your pet to receive and how to determine if and when its time to consider euthanasia.

Surprisingly, many pet owners have given thought to their pets’ needs, and often make arrangements with a friend or relative, leaving them a lump sum of money and the animals in their will. The sad truth is that many of those animals end up at the pound just days after their owner passes on. The neighbor was “humoring” the owner and never really intended to care for the animal, but appreciates the bequest. Or, the family member brings the animal home only to find that someone else in the home develops an allergy. Or, any of thousands of scenarios where the pets’ best interests are the last thing considered.

A properly prepared pet trust will anticipate the pets’ needs and provide for them within the allocated financial resources of their owner. Some thoughts might include:

A. Avoiding any incentive for the caregiver to shorten the pet’s life. Consider “rewarding” the caregiver for the longer life enjoyed by the pet by maintaining annual payments until the pet passes on. Don’t leave the balance of the trust to the caretaker on the pet’s demise. B. Consider funding the trust with a life insurance policy on your life that names the trust as beneficiary. C. Provide for a replacement of the caregiver if he should be unable or unwilling to continue to serve. D. Place the Trustee in charge of the monthly payments to the caregiver and give him the authority to terminate the caregiver if the level of care is unacceptable or not consistent with the terms of the trust. E. Define the point in your pet’s life when the caregiver can consider euthanasia, such as when two veterinarians agree the pet is in pain and there is no chance of recovery.

Lastly, always maintain a log of your pet’s likes and dislikes such as their favorite foods, toys, and people. Warn of situations where your pet doesn’t function well, such as in large crowds or in the presence of other pets. Ask yourself what you would want to know if you were going to be the one responsible for the pet. If there is one thing you can do for your pet as a thank you for its companionship, it should be planning for its health and happiness after you’re gone.

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