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PO Box 858 Firestone, CO 80520

Hours: 9 - 5 M-F

by Margrit Parker

We all love our dogs‭, ‬cats‭, ‬horses‭, ‬and other favorite animals‭. ‬Statistics show that‭, ‬on average‭, ‬we shell out more than‭ $‬1,000‭ ‬annually per pet to give them great lives and keep them healthy‭. ‬For horses‭, ‬some estimates are that the average annual cost to‭ ‬care for one equine friend is‭ $‬4,000‭.‬

It’s clear‭; ‬we devote a lot of love and money to the present wellbeing of our animals and our relationships‭. ‬

But how much time have you spent ensuring your animals’‭ ‬wellbeing in the future when you are not around to care for them‭?‬

We assume a special role when we take responsibility for the life of another living being‭. ‬And that role includes planning for that animal’s future when we are not in it‭.‬

This kind of planning encompasses expected near-term needs as well as possible long-term contingencies‭. ‬It ranges from having good how-to lists for day-to-day care when you are out of town to more comprehensive contingency planning for when you are suddenly unavailable‭, ‬such as a hospital stay or if you die before your animals do‭. ‬Let’s consider the different scenarios and degrees of planning‭:‬

Planning for trips out of town and planning for a backup caregiver in an emergency‭.‬‭ ‬Does your caregiver have access to your home and adequate instructions‭? ‬You can find a great starter resource for DIY planning‭ ‬by New York animal law attorney and mediator Debra Hamilton at‭ ‬https‭://‬‭/‬‭.‬

Planning for extended periods of incapacity‭.‬‭ ‬Do you have clear‭, ‬written‭, ‬enforceable instructions‭, ‬such as in a Power of Attorney‭, ‬giving your agent the ability to care for‭ ‬and pay for your animals’‭ ‬needs‭? ‬Once you lack the capacity to provide these instructions‭, ‬it is too late‭. ‬Others may decide the fate of your animals in‭ ‬a way that is contrary to your wishes‭, ‬such as surrendering them to a shelter or euthanasia‭.‬

Planning for the transfer of ownership and care after your death‭.‬‭ ‬Your animals can be an important part of planning your will‭, ‬which can establish who you give your animals to‭. ‬Some people leave their pets to a shelter or humane society with a reputable and trustworthy program for finding new loving homes‭. ‬Two examples‭ ‬are Denver Dumb Friends League’s Pet Guardianship Program and Denver Cat Care Society’s Nine Lives Guardianship Program‭. ‬Or‭, ‬perhaps it is important to you that your animals stay with your minor children while they‭ ‬grow up‭. ‬Your will‭, ‬carefully drafted‭, ‬can address how to make this happen and minimize the risk that the animals will be given‭ ‬away‭. ‬Planning for your animals after your death can be especially important for animals with long life spans that are more likely to outlive you‭, ‬such as some turtles that‭, ‬when well cared for‭, ‬can live 40-50‭ ‬years or more‭, ‬and some parrots that live 60‭ ‬or more years‭. ‬

Pet trusts‭. ‬If you are particularly concerned about what will happen to your animals when you are incapacitated or after you are gone‭, ‬you‭ ‬may even want to set up a‭ ‬‘pet trust’‭ ‬with detailed instructions that designates a caregiver and a trustee and sets aside funds to care for your animals for the rest‭ ‬of their lives‭. ‬Many of us have heard of the infamous Leona Helmsley‭, ‬who attempted to leave‭ $‬12‭ ‬million in trust for her dog Trouble‭. ‬That was excessive‭ (‬the court reduced the trust to‭ $‬2‭ ‬million‭, ‬which still seems excessive‭!), ‬and no amount of trust planning can prevent all possible problems‭. ‬Still‭, ‬stories abound of abandonment and euthanasia of a deceased person’s beloved pets‭, ‬and they give justification to the existence and use of trusts in the right circumstances‭.‬

Just as no two individuals are the same‭, ‬no two sets of circumstances are the same‭. ‬When you start to think about planning for animal care during periods of incapacity and after your death‭, ‬thinking carefully about the contingencies you want to prepare for‭. ‬Consulting with an attorney can ensure that your planning documents will work in practice and are tailored to your needs‭.‬

As you can see‭, ‬estate planning is not just about putting in writing your wishes and instructions for your personal medical needs‭, ‬your personal financial needs‭, ‬and for the benefit of your human family and dependents‭. ‬An important additional piece of the‭ ‬planning puzzle is your non-human dependents‭, ‬those animals whose survival and welfare depend on you and the decisions you make‭ ‬for them‭. ‬They give us so much‮—‬we owe it to them to plan‭!‬

Margrit Lent Parker practices law in Firestone providing estate planning and business legal services‭. ‬After over a decade of commuting to Denver‭, ‬she is thrilled to now be filling a need by serving the Carbon Valley community where she lives with her husband and young son‭. ‬When not helping clients‭, ‬Margrit is outside with her family‭, ‬whether enjoying the great outdoors or gardening‭ ‬at home‭. ‬Contact Margrit at‭ ‬‭.‬