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Norwich Bulletin - 1/2/2005

How To Provide For The Future

We always expect to outlive our pets because animals usually have shorter life spans than humans. We never want to think about our own impending death, but what does happen if you become incapacitated or die before your furry best friend?

We, at Helping Paws, have at least three to four calls a month from family members who do not want to care for their deceased relatives old cat or dog and are trying to unload the problem on already overcrowded, small rescue organizations. The end result is that the old animal usually gets left in a kill shelter or, if lucky, is euthanized. It's a good bet that the deceased relative never thought their family would dispose of their pet so quickly and without feeling.

So, as a responsible pet owner, one must ensure that the animal will continue to receive care and love should something unexpected happen and this column is to give you some information on how to do that.

When a person becomes unexpectedly ill or has a serious accident or sudden death, pets may be overlooked in all the confusion. In order to avoid this happening you should find at least two trusted friends or relatives who will agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers for your pets in the event something unexpected happens to you.

Provide them with keys, instructions and information on permanent care provisions you have made in case you do not return to your home. Make sure your neighbors (hopefully you talk to them) and friends know that you have pets, how many you have and who your emergency contacts are. I would carry something in my wallet that names my emergency pet caregivers as well as have an "I have pets" notice on a window near my front door. This way if emergency personnel is dispatched to your home, they will know you have animals. Try to have the names of your caregivers posted somewhere visible in case you are non verbal.

Now for the permanent care that may have to be addressed if you are not able to return home due to a serious illness or death. Everyone talks about leaving instructions for your pets in your will. While this is important, you need to remember that a will takes effect only upon your death and will not be probated and formally recognized by a court for days or even weeks later. And should there be someone who disputes the contents of your will, it could take even longer. Your relatives can cause enough of a stir that it may take a long time before your instructions regarding your pet's long term care can be carried out.

Consider setting up a trust fund for your animals. A trust can provide for your pet immediately and can apply not only to death, but also if you become ill or incapacitated. That can happen because you get to determine when your trust becomes effective. When you set up a trust, you set aside money to be used for your pets' care and you specify the trustee. This is important because a trust can be written to exclude certain assets from the probate process so that the funds can be more readily available to care for your pet and you can structure it so that even if you have a lengthy disability, the money can be used to take care of your pet.

There are lots of different types of wills and trusts - determining what is best for you should be discussed with an attorney. One thing to remember that it is not reasonable to request in your will that your pets be euthanized when you can no longer care for them. The legal system will most likely rule this invalid if the animal is young or in good health when there are other humane alternatives available. There are some cases when euthanasia may be appropriate, such as if the pet is very old or requires extensive, expensive treatment for a health condition. This is why it is so important to choose a responsible caregiver and know that the best decision for your pet will be made after your gone.

Leaving your pet to an organization is often not reliable - there are always chances the organization will no longer exist or the person who made the agreement with you could die before you do! Rescue organizations are oftentimes small and overcrowded - it is much better to work with a trusted friend or relative to insure your beloved pet gets the care and love it is used to and deserves. Don't wait - for more information on wills and trusts for your animals you can check out www.hsus.org/gifts or write to HSUS, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037.

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