N.C. ó Four years ago, Pam Miller went to the home of
a woman who was dying of cancer. The woman had lived a
full life and was in home hospice care. She was no
longer aware of her surroundings, which meant it was
time for Miller to come for her cats.
cats were nervously hiding under couches, and Miller
admits she felt sad taking them from the house before
their owner passed. (Two days later, the woman died.)
Miller took the cats to SAFE Haven For Cats, a Raleigh
nonprofit, non-euthanasia cat shelter and adoption
agency she founded 23 years ago and has run since. Eight
weeks after removing the cats, Miller reports with
satisfaction, they were in new homes.
doesnít want to think about what would have happened
to the animals otherwise. "In a (traditional)
animal shelter, the older cats, any cat with a medical
issue, a cat that may not be quite perfect Ö most of
the time they end up dying," she says.
way pet owners can prevent that is to take the steps
those catsí first owner did: She included her pets in
her estate planning, and Miller was simply fulfilling
her wishes. Taking in and finding new homes for the pets
of the recently departed is something SAFE Haven does
relatively often ó granted thereís a plan and funds
takes preparation, and it isnít necessarily cheap, but
more and more people are making assurances that their
animals will be taken care of after the owners die.
a sacred trust, says Miller, and she is honored to take
comes up every week," she says. "There are a
lot of people who donít have kids. There are people
whose kids are all over the country or are overseas.
There are people whose kids are allergic to cats."
the fallout from a loved oneís death, too, there are
so many things to take care of ó the funeral, the
house, and all the usual arrangements that come along
with the grief ó that itís easy to forget that
something needs to be done with the pets.
that end, Miller says, put a card in your wallet. It
should say how many pets you have and where they are,
and it should include the numbers of a vet, a pet-sitter
and a trusted friend to whom youíve spoken about
caring for your pets in case the worst happens. Anyone
can do this.
you have the means to leave a trust for your pets, talk
to a lawyer with experience in pet trusts. Shirley
Diefenbach, a member attorney at the Durham, N.C., law
firm Walker Lambe, works with SAFE Haven regularly and
holds two information sessions annually on estate
planning for pets.
I talk in a group setting, inevitably people who donít
have pets will chuckle a little bit when you introduce
the concept," says Diefenbach. But she says she
works with a few people monthly who want to leave a
trust fund for their pets.
being animals, canít legally inherit money as a child,
niece or nephew could. Diefenbach explains it in terms
of beach houses. If you have a vacation home you want
taken care of for the next 30 years, she says, you put
your money in a trust to pay for the expenditures of
that property. A pet trust is similar, but the money
goes to the care and feeding of the pet. After the
animal dies, the remainder can go to a person or to a
nonprofit, though some pets live longer than others (Diefenbach
recalls one trust she did for a parakeet with a
hundred-year life expectancy).
an attorney who knows how to include pets in an estate
plan isnít the hardest part, says Claudia Mangel of
Chapel Hill, N.C., though finding the right lawyer can
take a little effort. Mangel wants to be sure her two
dogs, older mixed breeds with chronic medical needs, are
provided for and kept together. Itís essential, then,
that she work with a lawyer who understands and is
responsive to this need.
had asked our estate planning attorney if he had a dog,
and he recounted in detail how his dog had just emerged
from two weeks in the ICU of their veterinary hospital
and was finally doing better," Mengel says.
"So I knew our attorney would understand why we
wanted to plan for the long-term care and well-being of
our dogs after we could no longer care for them."
Mengelís trust, itís her veterinary hospital thatís
the trustee. Thereís enough money in the trust to
provide for boarding and medication until the two can be
adopted together. If anything remains in the trust after
her dogs pass, that amount goes to help homeless dogs
this isnít just an end-of-life decision. Couples of
all ages, Miller says, ask about providing for their
pets. James Smith and his wife, Irena, are in their
early 50s, and they travel often. What would happen to
their five cats, the Durham couple wondered, if their
plane goes down? They have no children and no relatives
a morbid thing to think of," Smith admits, but he
and Irena feel better with a plan in place.
Smiths have been SAFE Haven volunteers and annual donors
since 2007, so it made sense to approach Miller about
it. She helped them work out a plan. If anything
happens, their animals go to SAFE Haven, where the
average stay between intake and adoption is two months.
like to say that when they come here, all their troubles
are over," Miller says. "Itís good things
from here on out."
are some tips on getting started:
ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
for Animals) has a good primer online for setting up a
trust. Here are some of the highlights.
Consult an attorney who specializes in estate planning
to make sure pet trusts are allowed where you live.
Itís recommended that your trust cover all pets in
your life, rather than settingup separate trusts for
Be detailed about the type of care required for your
pet, and require that the new caregiver will provide
regular veterinary care.
Determine the amount of money needed to cover your petís
needs and the amount of money needed to administer the
Choose a beneficiary for funds not used by the pet
choosing a custodian: Mondy Lamb at the SPCA of Wake
County, N.C., gives this advice: "The people named
in your pet trust should know that they have been named
and should be someone you would trust to love your furry
one the same way you would." Talk to friends or
family members who may be interested, but you may also
want to reach out to local rescue groups or your