I learned something new today. February is Responsible Pet Owner Month! The weather this week has been awfully cold, rainy, and dreary --- the perfect excuse to cuddle with your favorite furry friend.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, 68 percent of U.S. households include a pet. Forty-two percent have more than one pet in the household. Together, we own more than 180 million dogs and cats! That doesn't include the millions of birds, horses, tropical fish, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, lizards, snakes, turtles…you get the picture. We Americans really love our pets. Most of us consider our pets our family (63.2%). Only one percent of pet-owners consider pets to be property, yet many people spend more time planning for how their property will be distributed after death and fail to consider the effect their death will have on their pets.
Responsible Pet Owner Month was created to remind us about the importance of properly caring for our companion animals. As an estate planning law firm, we think this is also a good time to remind you that while companion animals are sometimes our very best friends in life, they are often not provided for in estate plans. Shelters and veterinarians euthanize an estimated 500,000 pets each year when their owners predecease them. While an outright gift to an animal is void under law in some states, the creation of an honorary trust for the care of your beloved animal companions is permissible in North Carolina.
The main objective of using a trust to care for your pet is to provide a flexible method for managing financial assets for the benefit of any pets that survive you. By using a trust, you can designate a party to act as guardian or caretaker for the pet. Furthermore, a trust allows you to leave specific instructions concerning the standard of care and special needs of your beloved companion animal.
It is also important to consider how your animals will be cared for if you have a medical emergency. Estate planning clients of ours who participate in our annual Client Care Program are automatically enrolled in the DocuBank Healthcare Directives Registry. With that comes an Emergency Card that you store in your wallet, and you have the ability to note right on the Card that. In addition, DocuBank also provides easy access to contact information for your pet’s guardian or caregiver. Access to this information is vital if you have a medical emergency that keeps you away from home and unable to take care of your pet.
In honor of Responsible Pet Owners Month, we suggest that you give your beloved companion some extra treats this week. But not too many—that would be irresponsible.