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Creating an estate plan that includes a pet

Events like Hurricane Sandy make pet owners think about what would happen to a loved animal when owners were unable to care for them. Natural disasters and an owner's incapacity or death can separate a pet from a human friend.

The ASPCA encourages pet owners to include the long-term care of pets in an estate plan through wills or trusts. Proper instructions for estate administrators can ensure that a pet lives with the right person and has enough funding to support feeding and medical attention.

ASPCA officials say an estimated 100,000 pets enter shelters annually because their owners have died or lost the ability to take care of them. The lost animals are often grouped with 3 to 4 million other unwanted pets in the U.S. that are euthanized every year.

More than 60 percent of American homes contain a pet. An ASPCA survey of 1,000 respondents found that just 17 percent of pet owners made legal plans for their dogs and cats. The arrangements could include leaving the pet - considered property by law - with a chosen guardian.

Sometimes owners establish a pet trust fund so that an animal's financial needs are not a burden to the person who cares for them. Pet trusts are available in every state with the flexibility to include the name of a pet beneficiary, the details about the pet's care and arrangements to finance the pet's needs.

Pets may also be included in a will. Remember that wills are contestable and can stall in limbo until the matter is resolved. Unfortunately, pets listed as assets for distribution may be caught without a caregiver during that wait.

One of the easiest ways to let others know how you want a pet handled in the event of an emergency is a simple card. Keeping an "animal card" and storing a similar document with estate papers will give others information and a contact for the pet's care.

Source:, "Superstorm showed need for estate planning for pets," Jacoba Urist, Nov. 12, 2012

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