Murphy Green, my Eclectus parrot, is 18 ½ years old and is expected to live another 40-45 years. Lola, my Timneh African Grey, is 3 years old and is expected to live another 40+ years. My dream is for all of us to die on the same day, but unfortunately that is unlikely to happen! While I do have some provisions for my parrots in my will, I am still worried that if I die before they do, they won’t be adequately protected.
So I was delighted to read an article in the Wall Street Journal last week that addressed this very issue. Apparently there are many folks like me out there that want to be sure their beloved furry and feathered loved ones are sufficiently protected in the event of death or disability.
Under most laws, pets are property, not living things in need of food, shelter, and a good belly-rub. That means your beloved pet could easily end up in a shelter – or worse – if you die without specifically addressing what will happen to Fluffy, Fido, or Polly. For those of us that make our living enhancing the lives of these amazing creatures, that is a horrible thought.
Just last week, the ASPCA teamed up with LegalZoom.com to promote the company’s Pet Protection Agreement, which identifies guardians for your pets, allows you to leave funds for their care, and lets you list their caregivers, such as your veterinarian, pet sitter, or groomer.
It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved. LegalZoom sells the agreement for between $39 and $79, the ASPCA will receive up to 15% of the price, and the pet parent gets peace of mind. More information can be found at: http://www.legalzoom.com/pet-trust-agreement/pet-protection-overview.html
But the question still lurks: Who will take care of my pet in the event I am longer able to? Lawyers say that without at least an informal arrangement, you can’t be sure what will happen to your pet. Family members might be unwilling or unable; friends may not want to take on that kind of commitment.
The Wall Street Journal article pointed out several important steps to take to ensure your pet will have a good home:
Get a commitment. You’ll need to get permission from a prospective caregiver to become your pet’s guardian. In the case of my parrots, there are very few people who have the right combination of desire, commitment, and ability to care for my feathered loved ones.
Put it in writing. This goes for just about any agreement as important as this. I recommend drafting a letter that specifically outlines the terms and conditions of the commitment. Interestingly, lawyers discourage putting such agreements and instructions in your will. Why? Because they can be challenged and could take months or years to be settled.
I also recommend including a financial commitment to help defray the expenses of caring for your pet. This is the fair, just, and right thing to do, especially in the case of an animal that may live another 10, 20, or 30 years.
Don’t leave the money to the animal outright. For amounts of approximately $25,000 and more, you can create a pet trust, naming a trustee to manage the money. This person could be the named caretaker, or could be someone else. You should also specify where any remaining money goes when the pet passes away.
Four states don’t specifically recognize pet trusts – Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Mississippi. Other state laws differ, so you may need a lawyer to set up the trust, which could run from several hundred to several thousand dollars. You could also leave funds in your will directly to the caregiver with the request that they be used for the pet, though some states don’t allow bequests with strings attached.
Create a pet dossier. I’m aware of very few pets that come with no instructions, complications, or special needs. When I leave my birds with the pet sitter, they come complete with two pages of instructions. A similar document should be attached to any written agreements for care of your beloved family pets. The dossier should include contact information for the vet, pet sitter, groomer, and other service providers, plus details about vaccinations, medicines, and the pets special likes, dislikes, quirks, and habits. Save a copy with other important papers and give a copy to your potential guardians.
Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry. As a Managing Director at SDR Ventures Investment Bank, Carol leads the team in executing pet industry transactions including M&A, capital formation and strategic advisory services. She is also the owner of BirdsEye Consulting, the consummate source for pet sector consulting expertise in market research, licensing, executive recruiting, and sales channel strategy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.