From the moment you first look into your fuzzy little friend’s eyes, it touches your life and becomes a member of the family. You spend the next years cuddling, playing with, and loving your pet.
And when your pet eventually passes away it’s a somber time for the entire household.
However, it can be equally sad for a pet when its owner dies – especially if that owner has not made plans for the pet’s wellbeing.
“It is an emotional time for a family when someone dies. Often, no one is thinking about or steps up to care for the pets left behind,” said Catherine Hammond, attorney at the Hammond Law Group, a firm that practices only estate planning and elder law.
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“Shelters can be difficult places for animals that are used to living in a loving environment. Also, you hear stories about pet owners that ask for their pets to be put down when they die, because they believe that no one will care for their animals once they are gone.
“And this affects so many of our furry loved ones. More than 500,000 pets are orphaned every year when their owners die or become disabled.”
Fortunately, there are options for your four-legged (and winged and no-legged) friends.
One of these options is a pet trust. And the good news is that you don’t have to be a millionaire to establish one.
“There’s a misconception that pet trusts are just something for people with too much money. That’s just not true,” said Hammond. “Pet trusts are a way to ensure that your beloved pet is cared for after you pass away.”
“Before being introduced to Hammond, I had no idea what a pet trust was,” said Chelbye McIntyre, president of Safe Place for Pets, a non-profit that ensures the pets of terminally ill people find a loving home. “We offer a pet directive that people can fill out so, in the event of death or incapacitation, someone’s wishes for their pets are known, but the pet trust is fantastic. I’m so glad that is a resource that we can use, too.”
Types of Pet Trusts
If you wish to leave money for the care of your pets, you must establish a trust. While you view the pet as a member of the family, according to the law, pets are property and you cannot leave money directly to a pet.
Therefore, there are different types of pet trusts available.
- Traditional trust: This provides instructions for the pet’s care, appoints a caregiver, and names a trustee to manage the money. This trust can be funded with life insurance. So, it is possible to designate only a portion of a life insurance policy to the pet trust while the remainder passes to other beneficiaries.
- Statutory pet trusts: This is a line in your will, such as “I leave $2,500 in trust for the care of my pet.” The probate court will then designate a trustee to oversee the money and decide how to provide care. The downside of a statutory pet trust is that you are unable to leave detailed instructions for your pet’s care.
If providing a pet trust does not seem like the best option for you, there are nonprofit societies dedicated to the care of pets whose owners have died, such as Safe Place for Pets.
“Our organization was founded when a hospice nurse found out that her client wanted a cat put down after the client passed,” said McIntyre. “This client didn’t think that anybody would want her 13-year-old cat that had a little bit of a health issue. She was worried about taking it to the humane society because she knew that older animals often don’t get adopted and thought it would be put down anyway.
“So, we take in those animals and get them homed. We also provide wellness care so that animals can stay with their terminally-ill owners for as long as possible to provide emotional support.”
“Safe Place for Pets is such a vital organization,” said Hammond. “We never know what life is going to throw at us, and so often our pets suffer unnecessarily in our moments of crisis. Knowing there is someone to take care of our furry loved ones can provide so much peace of mind.”
How to Discover the Options Available to You
The Colorado Springs area is very pet friendly. There are always events that are aimed at pet owners.
A recent example is the Bark at Briargate, supported by both Hammond and Safe Place for Pets.
“As a nonprofit organization, we always use these events to network, market, and mingle,” said McIntyre. “We really want to make sure that we are reaching out to anybody who needs our support and services or know somebody who does.”
“Pets are beloved family members,” agrees Hammond. “That’s why people are inclined to leave money for their care after they pass on. But many people don’t even realize that pet trusts are an option. That’s why our presence at events like Bark at Briargate is important. People need to know that their pets can live lives in a secure environment even after their owners have passed on.”