Pet owners can factor care into your life plans | Features
Owning a pet can be very beneficial for the elderly, mainly for companionship, exercise and the ability to care for them.
Although interacting with a pet is not the same as interacting with another human, many pets offer unwavering loyalty to their owners and seem to possess an innate sense of empathy. Seniors who find themselves living a sedentary lifestyle may be pressured to exercise regularly for the benefit of their pet. In fact, simply attending to the needs of others can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
As enjoyable as owning a pet is for the elderly, special attention should be paid to the care of the animal during incapacity and after death. Because pets are not people and will never “grow up” to be self-sufficient, providing for their ongoing needs is essential.
To meet the needs of incapacitated pets, seniors must first be clear about their pets’ real care needs, both physical and financial. Pet owners should choose a primary caregiver and an auxiliary caregiver, and should discuss the pets’ needs with both to ensure that the intended caregivers will be able to provide the expected care.
Caregivers must have the time available for the type of animal, have appropriate housing, and have a schedule that allows for caring for the animal. Similarly, if the senior enters long-term care, they may not have the resources available to continue caring for their pet, so the intended caregiver should be able and willing to support the animal financially.
Pet owners should also prepare written instructions, such as specific types of food, frequency and amount of feedings, regular veterinary care needs, frequency of grooming, and any additional care needs.
While a lifetime care plan for a pet would be more appropriate as a simple list of instructions for loved ones, afterlife animal bequests should be included in a last will. Like the lifetime care plan, the afterlife care plan should be discussed with potential caregivers for pets. However, unlike the lifetime care plan, money can often be set aside in a testamentary document, such as a will or trust, to meet the care needs of the animal.
There are two common options for leaving money for animal care.
The first is to simply leave a specific distribution to the person who will take the animal. The language of the distribution should be clear that the bequest should only be made if the individual takes possession of the animal with the intention of giving it a forever home. However, once the distribution is made to the individual, regardless of their intentions, there will be no further enforcement as to whether the animal is cared for.
The second option is to leave a sum of money in a pet trust for the care of the animal until the animal dies. This option would require the money to be used for the benefit of the animal and would follow the animal regardless of the change in custodian.
Cynthia Griffin is an elder law and estate planning attorney with Burnett and Griffin PLLC in Elizabethtown. She can be reached at [email protected]