Planning for Pet Emergency and Incapacity: 

A wallet “alert card” that lists the names and phone numbers of emergency pet caregivers is helpful. In addition it is essential that provisions for the care of pets be included in a Durable Power of Attorney. Instructions regarding the end of life of the pet should also be addressed. Failure to include provisions in a power of attorney is one of the most common mistakes make by pet estate planners.

a. Emergency Cards 

Include in the emergency card the following information: 

- Photo of the pets and their description and location 

- Name, address and telephone phone number of the emergency pet caregivers 

- The following declaration: 

“I have the following pet(s)[description and name], located at [address], which require immediate attention and care. Please contact as soon as possible the following person(s), who have accepted to take care of my pet(s) and inform them of my condition and whereabouts. 

[name, address, and phone numbers, and email address] 

Signature: Date: 

Emergency pet caregivers should be provided with an instruction list on the pet’s diet, feeding instructions, medication, veterinarian contact information, recreational activities, description of particular habit or reaction to certain situations, and an extra set of keys of the domicile. A simple but clear authorization should be given to the caregiver. 

Powers of Attorney 

The Durable Power of Attorney should address the issue of custody of the pets and provide an expenditure provision for the care of the pets. This immediate estate planning is particularly important for individuals who live alone, who are advanced in age, who suffer from chronic illnesses, who have multiple pets and want them to stay together, whose family members do not want to take care of the pets, or whose pets have a very long life expectancy. Of course, the pet owner should ensure the named pet caregivers are willing to care for the pet. 

Living Wills 

Pet owners should also provide instructions similar to a “Living Will.” Pets can have many painful diseases including arthritis and cancer; the cost can be substantial. A balance must be reached about quality of life after treatment. Information on how the owner feels about euthanasia will help the pet caregiver and veterinarian make decisions on how far they should keep a pet alive or when the pet should be relieved from pain. Also, instruction on how the pet’s remains should be disposed of should be included (e.g., cremation of the pet and burial of the remains in a particular place.) 
Planning for Long-Term Care: Pet Trusts: 
Creating Inter Vivos Pet Trust 

The pet owner can create a stand alone, self-funded or a testamentary pet trust. The inter vivos trust is often preferable when the animals are large and expensive, such as ownership of a number of horses. Otherwise the pet trust is a testamentary sub-trust of a the owner’s living trust. Before the enactment of pet trusts, the drafter faces two main challenges: (i) how to establish a valid and enforceable trust solely for the benefit of a pet while a pet is not a human beneficiary and therefore does not have any standing to enforce the terms of the trust against the trustee; and (ii) who could step into court on behalf of the pets. In addition, drafters had to avoid honorary trust statutes and the rules against perpetuities. A trust is called an honorary trust whenever a gift or bequest of funds is made for a specified purpose, but there is no human beneficiary to enforce the terms against the donee. Many states, including Virginia, have provisions to opt out of the rule against perpetuities. 

Estimating the Cost of Care 

The pet owner should estimate the cost of care of the pet. The following expenses should be considered in the estimate: food, medications, grooming, veterinarian services, pet life insurance, boarding, pet-sitting, toys, recreation, entertainment, and compensation to caretaker. 

The writer’s experience is most pet owners underestimate the cost of the pet when funding their trusts. According to the 2009-2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, basic annual expenses for dog and cat owners in dollars include: 
  • Surgical Vet Visits $532 $278 
  • Food $229 $203 
  • Kennel Boarding $273 $255 
  • Routine Vet $225 $203 
  • Groomer/Grooming Aids $66 $22
  • Vitamins $61 $28
  • Food Treats $64 $37
  • Toys $40 $19 
The cost of care may increase as the pet is aging. The estimated cost should be multiplied by the life expectancy of the pet which can be gleaned by research by type of pet. 

At this estimated cost, an annual rate of inflation should be added. It is good to discuss with the veterinarian the average expenses for treatment and medication at the end of a pet’s life of a similar breed.  The estimated expenses may be readjusted for the final years of the pet’s life. Finally, the cost with respect to the disposition of pet’s remains needs to be estimated. The method of distribution for the cost of care of the pet should be addressed in the trust document.