One of my dearest aging clients have a dog named Bo Bo. Bo Bo is a true companion to this couple: They are in their 90s and have outlived many of their friends, the husband is more mobile than his wife and likes to get physical activity by walking Bo Bo, and the dog is absolutely in love with them. Bo Bo also smells bad, barks at the littlest disturbance, is a manic that constantly jumps on visitors, (and gets slobber and fur on my suit, which needs to be dry cleaned after every single visit) and is begrudgingly tolerated (at best) by anyone other than my clients. Unfortunately, when my clients pass to the eternal human boneyard, Bo Bo’s fate is uncertain.
We love our pets, know they are living creatures, and rely on them when we are sad and need a companion who just listens without judgment (except perhaps for cats, who judge just about everything). But pets are still considered property: when it is our time to check out we need to choose who will get it, who will take care of the family pet and how to provide for that pet and its caretaker / future owner.
People often make fun of Pet Trusts (insert Leona Helmsley joke here), but they are a legitimate means of paying for the future care of a pet. The Executor of your Will gives money to the trustee who then pays funds to the person who is caring for your pet. This does not need to be distributed all at once: If the pet gets sick the Trustee can pay for the veterinary costs from trust funds, and also give the caretaker funds for his or her time. These trusts are often not properly funded: Expect to leave at least $3,000 for each year of your pet’s potential life expectancy (maybe more per year if they are older) plus whatever you want to leave the caretaker for his or her troubles.
Another way is to leave funds to a Not For Profit organization who will care for your pet. In New York a NFP called Bide-A-Wee will care for your pet in exchange for a reasonable fee (though this is not per se a testimonial on my part, Bide-A-Wee does have a good track record).
Lastly, there is always a simple bequest in your Will stating “I leave my dog Bo Bo to my daughter Sarah along with $10,000; if Sarah does not want to care for Bo Bo my Executor shall find an interested caretaker and give them the $10,000 bequest for Bo Bo’s care.”
Again, be realistic with the amount of funds you leave the caretaker: It was your choice to care for your animal companion, and now you should be willing to care for them as you would for any other needy family member upon your demise.
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