“Who will care for my pet if something happens to me” is a question I personally think of, but also hear from my clients as well. It is not a silly question. If you have a dog, cat or other pet, you know the unconditional love and affection pets devote to us improving the quality of life in ways nothing else can. This is why they deserve our respect and dedication even after we pass away or become incapacitated.
Unfortunately, if a pet owner becomes unable to care for his or her pets, they often end up living on the street. Thousands of pets are orphaned every year in the United States. To prevent your pets from adding to this sad statistic, you need to plan now for their care in the future.
One way to do this is to include your pets in your estate plan. This can be as simple as incorporating provisions for them into your Will or Living Trust. A Durable General Power of Attorney will allow an agent of your choosing to spend funds that have been allocated to your pets, as he or she sees fit in the best interest of your pets. The income is made available as ongoing Trust funds or as a gift given directly to the agent.
The first, and often easiest, way to make sure your pets are cared for is to include a request that your pets be placed with a willing friend or family member. This is done in the same way you would appoint a guardian for a child. In addition, most states allow for money from your estate plan to be set aside for the benefit of pets so that there is minimal, if any, expense for your pets’ caretaker.
Another option is to appoint a Trustee to care for your pets. This Trustee can either keep the pets in his or her own home or find someone else with a suitable, loving home to serve as caretaker. This type of “Pet Trust” also provides the Trustee with funds to be used for the pets’ benefit. If a suitable Trustee is not available, you may want to research local animal shelters and adoption centers. If sufficient funds are allocated for the care of the pet, some locations will accept pets that are donated through Trusts and care for them until a devoted home can be found for them. Often there are local non-profit institutions that have pets’ best interests in mind such as the SPCA and Humane Society.
You may have noticed that in recent years veterinary science has advanced by leaps and bounds. Veterinarians today offer treatments that were unheard of only a few years ago. Treatments, such as organ transplants, once only used on humans are now available for pets. Veterinarians also have access to more advanced technology that can detect problems that, in the past, would have gone untreated. For pet owners, this means higher costs per visit and possibly expensive procedures.
Pet insurance can help you cover these new costs. It is best used to protect against unseen catastrophic expenses, not procedures you can easily pay for on your own. Pet insurance allows you to worry about your pet’s health and not how you are going to pay for it.
Some good advice when looking for pet insurance is to shop around and find the policy that best fits your needs. Remember to not only pay attention to the monthly or annual cost, but to note the differences in deductibles, co-pays and caps, which may limit payouts by incident, annually or the animal’s lifetime. Make sure that you understand the exclusions. The conditions most likely to afflict your pet are often the ones most likely to be excluded from your policy.
Regardless of whether you decide to get pet insurance or not, it is always a good idea to think about the future. My dog Cleo and my cat Elmer are part of my estate plan.
Put yourself at ease and know that you will be able to take care of your pet no matter what happens.
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