Dealing with the loss of a pet can present a host of challenges. After all, your pet is not just a companion, it’s part of the family. Along with your grief, you are now faced with the task of determining how to handle your pet’s final disposition. Believe it or not, there are pet legal issues that you should consider when you are preparing for end-of-life.
Most communities have laws that define what you can and cannot do with your pet’s remains. Backyard burial, in particular, can present problems since the practice is covered by city, state, county, and local ordinances. Your veterinarian is a good resource for finding out what regulations apply in your area. Local pet cemeteries and crematoriums can also help guide you on what your community allows. The important thing is that you find out what your options are before you make a decision.
Even if you know your local regulations and you are prepared with a plan for what happens to your pet after death, you may not be ready for things that can happen to your pet under other circumstances. Like humans, pets need certain legal forms in order to be cared for in the case of your death or absence. Below is a listing of forms that every pet owner should have at the ready. Understanding your options can help you avoid pet legal issues that may arise if you are no longer able to care for your pets.
Short-term Power of Attorney for Pet Care
Every good pet owner makes sure their pet is cared for by a responsible party when they’re traveling. However, accidents happen and pets can become ill unexpectedly.
With your pet’s best interest in mind, it’s wise to create a Power of Attorney for Pet Care (POAPC). This simple form gives your pet’s caregiver a document stating that he or she has legal authority to make decisions if your pet needs veterinary care. The recipient gains the power to act on behalf of your pet and to assure that all of your pet’s needs are met. This document protects the caregiver as well as the agent and assures the directives of the person you have chosen to care for your pet are respected.
You can create a Power of Attorney for Pet Care by completing a simple form. You will need to select a person to act as your pet caretaker/agent in your absence. You should also select an alternate caretaker.
Since your pet is considered part of the family, it makes sense to address his or her care and future security just as you would for any family member. Unfortunately, even pet owners who create a will often fail to make formal arrangements for their pets. This leaves the pets vulnerable to being placed in a shelter and being euthanized. About 40 states currently have pet trust laws which allow pet owners to create a legal structure to address their pet’s long-term security.
Pet Legal Issues: Wills and Trusts
Keep in mind that simply making a provision for your pet in your Last Will and Testament is not sufficient to protect your pet. You cannot leave money or property to a pet in a Will. A Will forces assets to be administered through probate, which takes time, sometimes months or years, and allows assets to be frozen for the duration. This jeopardizes payments to pet caregivers. While you can’t leave money to your pet, you can leave your pet to an individual. While this works in many cases, it depends on the willingness of the person to provide for the pet.
To fully protect your pet in the event of your death or disability, you should establish a Pet Trust. A Pet Trust designates specific funds, separate from your Will, so that money is available to care for your pet. The trust can even be set up to go into in effect on a given date prior to your death and can be designed to address care during a disability. A trust ensures that you’ve done everything possible to protect the interests of your cherished animal.
Pet Legal Issues: Pet Trusts
Pet Trust Laws vary by state and not all states have laws to cover this type of legal arrangement. Be sure you understand what is required for your specific state.
Trusts involve three parties: The grantor, who gives funds to a trustee; the trustee who distributes the designated amount of funds to the caregiver on a regular basis; and the caregiver who ensures that your pet is cared for according to the specifications you state in the trust.
- Traditional Pet Trust: A traditional pet trust is valid in all states.
- Statutory Pet Trust: A statutory pet trust is subject to the laws of individual states.
To ensure your pet’s long-term care, find two people you can rely on to act as the trustee and another who is willing to care for your pet. The designated caregiver should have access to your home and be aware of your pet’s needs. The trust should be as detailed as possible so that transferring care of your pet is as seamless as possible. The type of information to be included:
- Health History
- Medications and Health Conditions
- Fears and Behavioral Challenges
- Identification methods
- Eating habits and dietary considerations
- Unique behaviors
- Daily schedule
- Grooming routine
- Favorite activities and motivators
- Veterinarian contact info
- Final wishes for your pet upon death.
- Duration of the trust (it must have a limited time in order to be valid).
Pet Legal Issues: Pet Protection Agreements
A Pet Protection Agreement (PPA) is a legal agreement between two individuals that covers taking care of your pet. With a PPA you are essentially establishing a guardian for your animal. The advantage of a PPA is that it can be used not only in the case of death, it can cover your pet in the case of an emergency. To execute a PPA you can use a lawyer or download a standard agreement from the Internet.
Without planning, decisions regarding pets are determined according to laws. Therefore, you can not bequeath money to your pet in a will. Furthermore, identifying a caretaker for your pet is only a wish and not enforceable by the courts.
Pet Legal Issues: Other Options
If find a responsible individual to care for your pet is not an option, there are programs in many areas that will provide for pets without owners. The Humane Society of America has programs in some areas and there are long-care resident facilities for animals.
The best thing you can do to ensure the long-term welfare of your pets when you are no longer available to provide for them is to plan. With the variety of options available, you are sure to find an arrangement that will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your treasured pets’ future will be taken care of.