Sunday, January 13, 2008

How to Name a Pet Custodian in a Will


It's a sad fact of life, but sometimes our pets outlive us. If we haven't made plans for their care after we're gone, they might be thrust into an animal shelter with mere days to live. We can bequeath an animal rescue a certain amount of money in exchange for lifelong care of our pet or name in our will a family member or friend as our pet's lifetime custodian.


Difficulty: Moderate



Step One

Assess your situation. Think about the number and kinds of pets you have. Decide if you want all your pets to go to one person. There may be two or three that are so close they must stay together; make sure one person is willing to take more than one.

Step Two

Determine who you trust. While a family member might love you, they might not love your dog and the day after you're buried, they might put Fido in the pound, despite what they promised you. When selecting a custodian, consider only those people who have met your pet, expressed enjoyment of your pet and who themselves either have in the recent past or currently are providing loving care to their own pet.

Step Three

Name an alternate custodian, even two, in case the person you designate falls ill or passes away as well. The same concerns apply to alternate choices. Make sure you trust them to care for your pet.

Step Four

Ask the person or persons you're considering if they are interested and willing to do what would be asked of them before you put their name on any legal document. Have a very sincere discussion with them and make sure they understand how serious you take this matter, how much you love your pet and that you would expect them to do the same.

Step Five

Provide a specific amount of money for the custodian to use for your pet. On average, dogs cost about $1,000 per year, depending on size and cats average about $650. Unfortunately, the more money you leave for a pet, the more likely other non pet-loving relatives may try to challenge your will as being made by "that crazy cat lady" or "that dog nut."
Make sure your documents are air-tight.

Step Six

Think about a pet survivors program through an animal rescue organization if you have no friends or relatives you deem trustworthy enough to name as caretakers for your pets. There are several groups that offer such programs, but you will want to thoroughly investigate them before making any commitments.

Step Seven

Consult an attorney for the proper wording and documents needed to provide lifelong care for your pet or pets. If your attorney is also your trustee, make sure he or she will handle the transfer of your pet to your designated custodian and distribution of funds to care for your pet. You'll need to provide copies of the documents to your named custodian, alternate custodian and veterinarian.

Tips & Warnings

  • The Humane Society of the United States offers a free kit, "Providing for Your Pet's Future Without You," which includes a fact sheet, wallet alert cards, emergency decals for windows and doors, and pet custodian information forms. Request one by writing or calling 202-452-1100.

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