As a pet owner, do you need to have a pet trust or will in your estate plan? Well, maybe so, given the fact that in the American society of today one fundamental sociological reality has now become absolutely indisputable and well-established, namely, that America’s house pets (generally defined nowadays to include dogs, cats, fish, reptiles, and other small animals) are increasingly considered a member of the family or a child, and not just “animals” any more.
The evidence? The results of many credible surveys and studies, for example, which show, as in the case of an October 1999 report by the USA Today newspaper, for example, that more than 66% of American pet owners consider their pets as “a member of the family,” or as in the case of a more recent survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, which show that a whopping 84% of them thought of their animal companions as being their kids. As well as the evidence from the physical attitude, treatment and relationship of pet owners towards their companion animals. Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case! Not at all. In deed, quite the opposite is the case with most pet owners. Yes, it’s true that among pet lovers a strong impulse and wish often exists to make such a provision for the care of their pets in the event of the incapacity or death of the pet owner. But, typically, the vast majority of the American pet owners generally fail to follow through, however, to actually translate that professed desire into reality for the pets’ future. In point of fact, the most modern and effective way to “plan” for the pet’s future protection and care in case of a serious contingency, is through setting up an estate planning instrument called a “pet trust” for the pets. With a valid pet trust (and a few other simple estate planning vehicles related to it), you can make specific provisions for the care of your pets in the event of your disability or death, and provide for a reliable caretaker and funding arrangement for the pet which will be legally enforceable by the courts.
Nevertheless, most pet owners fail to set up such a device for their pets. Most pet owners, in deed even the estate plan professionals and lawyers in the field, are not too well informed about it. Pet owners pathetically fail, in overwhelming numbers, either to make any estate planning at all in their own affairs, or to include their pets in such plans, and frequently wind up leaving their pets with no protections and subject to undue sufferings, agony, even euthanasia after their owners are incapacitated or dead.
David Congalton, co-author of “When Your Pet Outlives You,” puts it this way: “How many of us have already gone the extra step to make sure our animal companions are safe if something unexpected happens to us? The Answer is NOT many.”
One 2000 study, for example, by pet law expert and pioneer, Prof. Gerry W. Beyer, reports that only between 12 percent and 27 percent of pet owners have provisions in their wills relating to their companion animals. JUST 27 percent – AT THE MOST!
NO WAY TO TREAT YOUR REAL MINOR CHILDREN. Pets, Our “Children”? Our “family members”?
Many studies have been conducted which show that many dogs, cats and other pets found in shelters end up there only because their owners became unexpectedly ill or incapacitated, or were for some reason unable to care for them, or died without leaving any plans for their pets’ next home or care.
A survey conducted between 1994 and 1997 by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, for example, found “that 64 percent of all pets that entered the participating shelters for any reasons, were euthanized.” And David Congalton & Charlottte Alexander, co-authors of When Your Pet Outlives You, confirm that “More than 15 million dogs and cats are euthanized in animal shelters across the nation annually…[shelters] currently handle less than 1 percent of the nationwide abandoned parrot population.”
Can you possibly imagine our treating our HUMAN minor children with such gross neglect or carelessness, even indifference and callousness? We would all almost surely be hauled to jail en mass for the crime of abandonment and neglect of our helpless, innocent, loving minor children, wouldn’t we? Can you possibly imagine us leaving our minor or infant HUMAN children completely to fend for themselves when we’re not there, and without the normal protections and safeguards as would assure that they’ll have some substitute home and a caretaker, if we were not able or around, as are largely accorded them today? Or, possibly imagine us leaving our real minor human children behind with virtually one certain realistic fate for them – euthanasia and death?
Clearly, the main reason why these animals wind up wandering the streets or get euthanized, after their owners are incapacitated or dead, is because they simply can’t find homes. Their owners had made no thorough plan or arrangement – an estate plan – that would have put together such an arrangement for a next home, a suitable caretaker, and the funding plan, to assure that objective for the pets. Not a particularly comforting scenario especially for those of us who think of our pets as being like our kids! We have all heard the “horror stories” about pets being left behind in homes and apartments after the September 11th tragedy and the Katrina disaster. Such stories were, of course, more “visible.” And are seemingly more horrifying because of that visibility factor. The central problem of the kind of frightening fate that pets face when they’re left behind with no good estate plan arrangement, however, is not by any means uncommon or limited. It is general and widespread. And, it is real for most pets – long, long before September 11th and Katrina, and thereafter to this date.
THE MESSAGE? Take advantage of the recent advancements in the pet laws of the nation and simply create a good estate plan, including a valid “pet trust,” making specific provisionsfor the care of your pets in the event of your disability or death, and provide for a reliable caretaker and funding arrangement for the pet that will be legally enforceable by the courts. A good estate plan for the pet, to be complete, should also include a host of other special instruments, ranging from a suitable durable power of attorney, animal cards and animal identification and information documents, to Inter Vivos or Testamentary trust, etc. With such a plan in place, you’ll pretty much assure that in the event of any serious emergency in your life, your pets will not likely wind up in the pound or shelter somewhere awaiting euthanasia, but will be taken into a safe home and will be properly cared for by a responsible, caring caretaker
WHAT A WAY TO DEMONSTRATE OUR OWN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR OUR PETS! We talk all the time about the unconditional love of our pets for us – unfailingly. Now, what about our own UNCONDITIONAL LOVE for them? Clearly, the ultimate, most genuine expression of ‘LOVE’ that we can bestow as a pet owner upon a beloved animal companion, is to assure a legally valid estate plan by which that pet animal would be protected and properly cared for in the event of our incapacitation or death.