October 16, 2016
by Ellen F. Houser
“This puppy was brought to our rescue organization after both of his owners were seriously injured in a bad car accident.”
“That kitten was surrendered because her guardian became ill and could no longer care for her.”
“This cat’s owners moved into a nursing home and were unable to take him along.”
“That dog landed in the shelter when her caregiver passed away.”
Most of us don’t want to consider our mortality. We don’t want to imagine the possibility of becoming too ill to tend to our pets. And yet we have all read about companion animals that are in need of new homes because a guardian died or became unable to provide care for the pets.
Who would care for your companion animals if you became ill, incapacitated, injured at work, or hurt in a serious automobile accident? What would happen to your pets if you pre-deceased them? How could you provide some protection for your companion animals in case they were to outlive you? These are questions that every pet owner — of any age — should be able to answer.
You can rest assured if you adopted your pets from Centre County PAWS, because your application includes the name and contact information of the person you selected to provide care for your pets if you were no longer able. In addition, PAWS makes a lifelong commitment to all of its animals. Dogs that are being returned to PAWS have priority and are moved to the top of the waiting list. Likewise, returning PAWS cats are given priority over all other cats.
National Estate Planning Awareness Week is October 17-23, 2016. The awareness week was established in 2008 to help the public understand that this type of planning is important for everyone, not just for the very old or the very rich. You might be thinking, “I don’t have a will yet, but I’m going to create one and leave money to my cats and dogs.” There are just a few problems with that line of thought.
First, if you have not yet executed a will, you should be aware that the state already has a default will in place for you. According to the website nolo.com, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decides how to divide your assets among your closest relatives — not pets — under “intestate succession” laws. (Intestate means not having made a will.) Second, animals can’t own property, so you can’t leave money or assets directly to your pets. Third, a will does not stipulate care provisions for your companion animals if you are alive but impaired and unable to provide for them. And fourth, wills are typically not read, or even found, until days or weeks after a death, so your pets could be in legal limbo during that time.
Pennsylvania law allows an individual to establish a pet trust, which can be set up to provide for the care of an animal throughout its lifetime [animallaw.info/statute/pa-trust]. Another alternative is the Surviving Pet Care Program at Centre County PAWS, designed to provide peace of mind for you and your pets even if they did not come from PAWS. You can contact Christine Faust, Director of Development, at email@example.com or 814.237.8722, for more information on the benefits of this plan. Enrolling in the Surviving Pet Care Program will guarantee quality care at PAWS in the event that you become unable to tend to your pets or if your pets outlive you. Centre County PAWS and Petfinder.com both suggest consulting with an estate lawyer to verify that wills and pet trusts can be upheld in case they are legally challenged.
Some final thoughts: If you were rushed to the hospital, your pets could be left alone if nobody knew about them. Inform friends, neighbors, and relatives of the number and types of pets in your home. Carry a Pet Alert card in your wallet that identifies emergency caregivers and telephone numbers. Place a Rescue Alert Sticker near your front door that includes information on your pets. Also, older adopters should keep in mind that a puppy or kitten could outlive them. Regardless of your age, if you are thinking about adding a canine or feline companion to your home, please consider an adult or senior pet. You just might be able to give that mature cat or dog the best years of its life.
Tufts University’s Catnip newsletter suggests these resources for learning more about estate planning for pets:
Be proactive and ensure good care for each of your pets throughout its lifetime.