When you die, who will take care of your pets?
Make sure your dog, cat, horse, parrot, or other beloved animal doesn't end up euthanized, joining you in the great Shelter in the Sky.
There are innovative new ways to provide for your pet: through your will, estate plan, or even prepaid aftercare at your local shelter.
"If someone elderly ends up in a nursing home, their dog or cat often goes to a shelter and hasn't been provided for," says Marianna Schenk, a Bala Cynwyd estate lawyer.
"A lot of people just die without a will. Whoever settles their affairs may not want the animals. That's very sad. It's better to make a provision in your estate for your pets.
"Friends or children may not want your dogs - even though they may want everything else."
To address the need, the Pennsylvania SPCA set up a new program in January called Guardian Surrender.
If you're worried about who will take care of your animals after you die, "we hope the Guardian Surrender program will ease your mind," says Patricia Mecca, director of planned giving at the PSPCA, 350 E. Erie Ave.
The program is available to anyone who sets up a planned gift such as a bequest or trust that benefits the PSPCA.
Under the provisions of Guardian Surrender (http://www.pspca.org/support-us/planned-giving/gifts-of-bequest/), the no-kill shelter takes care of your pets after you die, then finds them new homes. Currently, the program is available only for dogs and cats, with a limit of two pets per person.
Donations can range from $2,000 to $3,000 to up to hundreds of thousands. There is no set dollar amount for a bequest, but the cost to maintain one animal for one year is $600.
Submit estate documentation in writing, indicating that the PSPCA is included in your will and specifying that your companion animals are to be entrusted to the PSPCA upon your death. The nonprofit can provide sample language to include in a will and/or to discuss with your estate planner.
Agreements and trusts
A "pet protection agreement" can be completed with or without a lawyer. Such agreements are valid both during the pet owner's lifetime as well as after death. Legal Zoom has them for $39 online (www.legalzoom.com/pet-trust-agreement/pet-protection-overview.html).
Some pet owners with substantial assets have set up pre-funded trusts.
Formal pet trusts are not as common, but they do exist. Both Pennsylvania (20 Pa.C.S.A. Section 7738) and New Jersey (Section 3B:11-38 Trust funds for pets) have statutes providing for care of animals.
New Jersey law dictates that pet trusts must end either when the animal dies, or at the end of 21 years, whichever is earlier. The Legislature is working to remove the 21-year limit, Schenk says.
"Create a trust, either within the will or standing apart from the will, which sets out that the future care of the pet is the purpose," says Dennis McAndrews, estate-planning lawyer in Berwyn.
He prefers a trust independent of a will that provides protection in the event you become incapacitated during your lifetime. Choose a family member, a friend, or a nonprofit agency as the caretaker, and specify type of food, toys, even daily walks.
Pet trusts act like a trust for a person. The trustee possesses discretion on expenses, and is separate from the caregiver.
"The trust also delineates the point at which the trust terminates, together with the beneficiary of any unspent resources, and may also set out end-of-life expectations with respect to the pet to address a circumstance where the pet is suffering and has no reasonable chance to recover," McAndrews adds.
Trusts can even specify the type of burial or cremation for your pet, says Andrew Haas, estate-planning lawyer at Blank Rome in Center City.
Still, most people tend to bequeath their pets outright to a particular person, along with a cash gift.
Schenk, a partner with Bala Law Group in Bala Cynwyd, is drafting such a document, in which a client leaves her German shepherd and $50,000 to a sister.
"She is not setting up a pet trust, just special arrangements for a beloved dog," Schenk says. "It's a way for them to say 'thank you' to the person caring for their animals."
Schenk has three adopted rescue dogs from ACCT Philly, which manages the city's animal shelter. She doesn't have a pet trust - just an agreement with her best friend, who will take the animals in the event of Schenk's and her husband's deaths.