As a Newport Beach estate planning attorney, I can tell you that people often forget to plan for their faithful pet companions. A pet that’s been with someone for 10, 12 or 15 years can certainly be considered a member of the family. Yet pets are often forgotten or neglected in the estate planning process, leaving them “orphans” after their owner has passed on. In some cases, family members were unaware their aging parent or relative even had a pet, leaving them totally unprepared to assume that responsibility once their loved one passes on.
Pets that are left with no provision are often taken to a shelter to be put up for adoption. However, there’s no guarantee they will find a new home. For pets that have grown up together, it could be even more difficult as they may find themselves separated and living in different homes.
There have been situations where a pet owner had to be placed in the hospital and no one was available to care for their canine or feline companion. Even when relatives volunteered to take a pet, no documents had been prepared to release the pet into their custody, resulting in pets being taken to a shelter instead.
Like any other valuable property, pets should be incorporated into estate planning, or have a separate emergency plan made to provide for them in the event that pet owners are hospitalized or pass on.
When planning your future, consider how your pet will be cared for if you have an accident or pass on. Ask your estate planning attorney to create legal documents that make provision for your pet when you’re no longer capable of doing the job. Here are a few ways you can plan ahead for your pet’s care:
•Create a trust for your pet to provide finances for their care, and include detailed instruction as to how you would like them to be cared for.
•Create a legal document designating a guardian for your pet in the event you are incapacitated or pass on.
•Write a brief biography of your pet to include name, age, state of health, years of ownership and instructions for care as well as name and number of your pet’s vet to make it easier for your pet’s guardian to move forward.
•Make pet documents easily accessible to family and/or friends.
•Make sure the contact info of your pet’s guardian is within easy reach of first responders.
•Make a list of names and numbers of local animal shelters in the area in case your pet is moved to a shelter before a guardian arrives.
Losing an owner can be a traumatic experience for a pet, particularly if a pet has had the same owner for years. By including your pet in the estate planning process, you can take measures to protect your pet’s safety and comfort.
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