Many lessons can be taken from the beating that our state took in recent weeks as a result of Hurricane Sandy, not least of which is the resiliency of New Yorkers. However, as we piece things back together, some advocates are reminding community members of one overlooked victim of lack of preparation: pets. A story from Today discussed how many families were forced to make tough choices about their pet, partiularly when they had to evacuate or seek other shelter that did not allow animals.
Of course, there were no easy answers, but in all cases it was a reminder of the need to have some preparations in place ahead of time so that beloved animals are taken care of no matter what the circumstances. While few expect severe weather patterns to disrupt the care of an animal, there are some events which we all must plan for: death and disability.
The article points to statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) that nearly 100,000 pets are forced into shelters each and every year as a result of guardians who pass away or become disabled without planning for their care. The future for those animals is unclear. Resources are incredibly tight, and so, depending on where the animal is taken, their long-term prospects are varied. It is truly a tragic sitaution that affects far too many pets that were devoted companions to their owners throughout their lives.
Fortunately, there are steps that all pet owners can take to eliminate the uncertainty. Basic estate planning tools can be used to provide for the care of a pet for the rest of their lives. New York allows the creation of pet trusts, which are essentially pools of money set aside to be managed by a trustee and used for the animal’s care. For legal purposes, an animal is the property of the owner. Thefore, the animal cannot receive money directly. You can write a will leaving money for your dog, for example, but it won’t have the intended affect, because an inheritance cannot be left to property. However, by using a trust, the animal can receive the fruits of those funds in a way that is binding under the law.
A representatives from the ASPCA summarized by noting that “Oftentimes, it’s natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy that push people into action. Storms like this could be what motivates people to update their will or draft one in the first place. We want people to consider making those same arrangements for their care of their pets, so they don’t end up homeless with no one to care for them.”
For help with these and related estate plan issues in New York, please take a moment to call or visit one of our many offices across the state.
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