Friday, August 2, 2013

Pets in the Estate Planing Process

At 5 years old, Kiki the Cat was loving life.  The focus of her human companion's attention, they shared a lovely condo in downtown Madison.  Filled with sun, toys, and napping baskets, life was good.  And then life happened.  Suddenly her human companion was sick, really sick.  So sick that long-term care was needed, life in the condo became something of the past.  Kiki needed a new home, and a new family.

Not unlike countless other animals, her path may have led to a shelter.  Instead, the promise of a family friend to that human companion secured Kiki a new home.  And that home is mine.  She is now one of three cats in a home, has 5 and 3 year old humans scampering about, and a bay window overlooking a lush green yard...filled with birds.  Kiki's story turned out well.  If you are a pet owner, what would happen if you suddenly fell ill and could not provide care, or if you passed?  Unpleasant question -- sure, but an essential one.

When counseling clients in my legal practice, I routinely offer the following suggestions:
  1. Program the ICE in your Smart Phone (it's the In Case of Emergency key) to have a Pet Contact. Most phones have room for two or three contacts. Should you be in a car accident or other situation where you are fall ill away from home, make sure emergency personnel know about animals in your home that may need care within the next 12 hours. It is common practice for authorities to use Smart Phones to locate loved ones, and it can alert them to special circumstances in your home.
  2. Post a Care Contact Document on your fridge. Parents of young children often have a magnet on the fridge with the phone number for the pediatrician, etc. Those with animals in the home should create a similar document and list: name and phone number of veterinarian; list of prescription food or medicines for each animal, if any; contact information for a short-term pet sitter; and the name and number of one or two people who are willing and able to offer a new permanent home to an animal.
  3. Create powers of attorney for finance, which allow others to manage your financial affairs if you are alive, but too sick to act. This should include services related to animal health and care.
  4. If medical or other care costs will be a financial burden on future caretakers, consider creating a pet trust in a will or living revocable trust. These instruments can be simple (usually four paragraphs long), and allow you to transfer animals and money to a trust managed by someone you appoint, cared for my a person of your choosing, and direct where any remaining monies should upon the death of the animal.
Thanks for reading, and remember -- a blog post is not legal advice.  It is a venue to stir thoughts and questions.  Please consult an attorney in your area for advice specific to your situation.

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