Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Owners urged to make provisions for pet in will

Holland resident Frank Martin's unexpected death on June 12 left his two Basset hounds, Harley, 4, and Davidson, 6, without a home or family.

Mr. Martin -- like many pet owners -- never made legal plans for his canine companions in the event of his death. These hounds appear to be lucky -- the list of those offering to adopt them is long.

But had no one stepped forward, the outcome could have been bleaker -- the dogs could have been split up or even faced death.

"That is why it is so important to make provisions in the will and that there is somebody who knows when you pass away that there are provisions," executive director of Toledo Area Humane Society John Dinon said while explaining the possible consequences of failing to make post-death pet care plans.

In a document titled "Providing for Your Pet's Future without You," the Humane Society of the United States recommends that pet owners delegate temporary care-giving responsibility to friends or relatives in the event of an emergency, in addition to making permanent care plans in a legal document.

RELATED CONTENT: 'Providing for your pet's future without you'

Toledo estate planning and probate attorney Craig Frederickson said many clients, especially those who are no longer married, request to include pet-care plans in wills.

Mr. Frederickson said he usually uses a language of desire rather than a direct bequeath in this section of the will in order to provide the selected executor more flexibility when determining a permanent residence for the pet. Such flexibility might expedite the process of finding the animal permanent care.

"It's a discretionary thing with the executor," Mr. Frederickson said. "[The will] is a big deal. You become attached like I'm attached to my dog."

Mr. Dinon also recommends that pet owners specify care-giving instructions in their wills.

According to Toledo probate attorney David Errington, an animal cannot be forced on a friend or relative who does not want it -- another reason a will or trust stating specific intentions is important.

"An animal is treated just like any other piece of property," Mr. Errington said.

The Toledo Area Humane Society offers a program called "The Circle of Life" that allows owners to entrust the Humane Society with temporary custody of the pet in exchange for leaving the society a bequest in the will. The Humane Society will then search for an adoptive home for the pet, a process that can take two weeks to two months, provided the animal passes a temperament test.

Mr. Dinon said all of the animals left to the Toledo Area Humane Society through "The Circle of Life" have found homes through the adoption process.

"The Circle of Life" is one of a few programs of its kind. In general, the Humane Society of the United States recommends that pet owners not rely on humane organizations because many do not have the funds or space to care for orphaned animals.

The Toledo Area Humane Society does occasionally run short on space, but Mr. Dinon said the organization will go through "extreme measures" to take care of animals whose owners signed up for program.

"We might have to put them in foster home for a bit, or they can come and stay with my dogs for a while," Mr. Dinon said.

Though a will is a viable way to provide for pets, "Providing for Your Pet's Future Without You" lists some drawbacks.

Because wills only take effect after death, serious illness might leave pets unattended. Additionally, a will might take several days to be probated and formally recognized by a court.

Lucas County Probate Court Judge Jack Puffenberger said an Ohio law passed in 2007 lets pet owners establish trusts to care for their animals after the owners die.

Trusts may be a better option for pets than wills, Mr. Errington said, because they are generally more quickly administered and are often managed privately.

Owners can also set aside money in a trust that can ensure their pets are cared for over a longer period of time, he added.

In its document, the Humane Society of the United States urges pet owners to consider a trust, which can provide for pets immediately and applies in the event of death or serious illness.



When including your pets in your will, care should be taken to ensure your pets are taken care of and that sufficient funds from your estate are expended on the animals' behalf.

This is language recommended by the The Humane Society of the United States to help ensure proper decisions are made to care for pets:

{Article Number] A. As a matter of high priority and importance, I direct my Personal Representative to place any and all animals I may own at the time of my death with another individual or family (that is, in a private, non-institutionalized setting) where such animals will be cared for in a manner that any responsible, devoted pet owner would afford to his or her pets. Prior to initiating such efforts to place my animals, I direct my Personal Representative to consult ____, D.V.M. (currently at the _____ Hospital), or, in the event of Dr. ___'s unavailability, a veterinarian chosen by my Personal Representative, to ensure that each animal is in generally good health and is not suffering physically. In addition, I direct my Personal Representative to provide any needed, reasonable veterinary care that my animal(s) may need at that time to restore the animal(s) to generally good health and to alleviate suffering, if possible. Any animal(s) not in generally good heath or who is so suffering -- and whose care is beyond the capabilities of veterinary medicine, reasonably employed, to restore to generally good health or to alleviate suffering -- shall be euthanized, cremated, and the ashes disposed of at the discretion of my Personal Representative. Any expense incurred for the care (including the costs of veterinary services), placement, or transportation of my animals, or to otherwise effect the purposes of this Article ___ up to the time of placement, shall be charged against the principal of my residuary estate. Decisions my Personal Representative makes under this Article ____-- for example, with respect to the veterinary care to be afforded to my animal(s) and the costs of such care -- shall be final. My intention is that my Personal Representative have the broadest possible discretion to carry out the purposes of this paragraph.

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