Who Will Care for Hachi?
There are 86.4 million cats and 78.2 million dogs owned in the U.S., according to the American Pet Products Association.
The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that each year, 400,000 pets need to find new homes because their owners died.
Have you made provisions for your beloved pets? Are you absolutely sure a loved one will look after them?
Loyalty Should Be Repaid
Perhaps you doubt that formal planning for a pet is really necessary and say something like this:
“Our daughter will take of our dog, Buster. I’m sure of it”
Consider recommending that they rent the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. This tear-jerker is based on the story of the famed Japanese dog, Hachiku. In the 2009 movie, Hachi and his owner, played by Richard Gere, walk to a train station daily as Gere’s character goes to work. Hachi returns each evening to greet him and they walk home.
When the man dies, his wife and adult daughter are too shocked to deal with the dog and essentially abandon Hachi, who returns to the train station. For 10 years, Hachi lives off scraps and sleeps under a railroad car. He eventually dies after a decade of mourning his owner.
If my family let this happen, I’d probably haunt them.
You Don’t Have to Be Leona Helmsley
To ensure a pet receives proper care after a client dies, I encourage clients to set up a formal Trust. I’m not talking about setting aside millions of dollars the way hotelier Leona Helmsley did for her dog, Trouble. I’m suggesting a sensible fund that will cover medical needs, food and housing needs over the pet’s expected lifetime.
Until recently, most people set up simple honorary Trusts that left lump sums to beneficiaries to care for their pets. But this relies on people’s willingness to honor the deceased’s wishes and spend the money on the pets – and that’s a leap of faith some pet owners aren’t willing to take.
Options for Pet Trusts
There is more than one way to handle this planning, and it can be tailored to your unique situation.
A Traditional Trust requires a client designate a Trustee who pays money to the beneficiary who cares for the pet.
A Statutory Trust is a simpler plan in which state law dictates the details of how your pet Trust is executed.
The planning can be either a Living Trust – which takes effect immediately and protects you if you are disabled and unable to care for your pet – or a Testamentary Trust, which kicks in after you die.
It’s also important for you to leave behind a list of instructions about how you would like your pet to be cared for in terms of food and routine, grooming and medical care. You should also check with potential Trustees and beneficiaries to ensure that they will take on these duties.