Pets, You Gotta Love 'Em

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Our pets are beloved family members.  Most of us will go to more trouble caring for our pets than we might for our children.  My daughter used to criticize me because in her eyes, I would wisk our family cat off the vet if she had a warm nose, and if my daughter felt sick I would say “Well, let’s wait and see.”  She was right, actually.  That is how the story went.

Our pets provide us with uncritical feedback and what we interpret to be love.  The adoring looks from my cats are most common when they are standing next to an empty food bowl, but the looks make me feel warm all over.  When folks are losing or have lost mental capacity, having a dog’s head resting in their laps, or a cat curled up to pet, is just wonderful.  Good nursing homes and assisted living facilities have animals for this reason.

But what happens to our faithful animals when we die?  You need to think about this.  Even though dogs and cats are not particularly long lived, if we have always owned one, it is likely that the pet of the day will survive us.  You can provide for a pet by indicating whom you wish to have and take care of the animal after your death on a memorandum that is separate from your Will.  It is much wiser to do this than to leave it to chance.  Imagine having your beloved pet end up in a shelter because no one was prepared to care for him or her.  You can prepare a memorandum, if you have a Will, without making a change to your Will.  You can use any type of paper, even prepare it on your computer.  Handwritten is okay.  You should sign it and date it, but it does not need to be witnessed or notarized.

Another idea is to create a Pet Trust.  This would have to be in your Will, or in a larger Trust.  You can set aside a sum of money to be used for the care of your pet so that caring for him or her will not be a financial burden on the next owner.  But don’t go overboard.  Leona Helmsley left her entire estate to a pet trust for her dog, which resulted in anxious heirs rather than loving caregivers.

Some pets are guaranteed to outlive you.  Parrots, turtles, flamingos and elephants can live longer than their human owners.  So if you own one of these, you definitely need to plan for the animal’s life after yours.  A colleague of mine told me that his grandmother had owned a cockatiel.  After her death 10 years ago, the bird came to live with his family.  The bird had learned to talk from his grandmother, and to this day, the bird speaks in the voice of their grandmother.  So when the bird scolds the dog, it is as if their grandmother is still around!  Now that is planning.