LAUDERDALE, Fla. ó All dogs may go to heaven, but what
happens if their owners die before they do?
a question anyone with a pet should ask, experts say.
there are South Florida professionals and organizations
helping animal lovers find an answer, which can include
everything from setting up private pet trusts to
endowing a rescue group in exchange for lifetime care.
still are too many people who have a concern about their
animals but donít know what to do," said
Plantation, Fla., elder law attorney Stephanie
Schneider. "When we start talking about our own
mortality, itís scary."
animals are more likely to be left in shelters, and
possibly euthanized, if their parents havenít made
plans in advance.
what happens is someone tragically passes away, or
becomes incapacitated, and the family brings the animals
to us because there is no one to care for them,"
said Rich Anderson, executive director and CEO of the
Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, Humane Society of the
Palm Beaches, in West Palm Beach, Fla.
shelter started receiving calls from people "asking
us if we had any kind of program that would give their
pet a home," Anderson said.
led Peggy Adams to start its Peace of Mind program in
October. It guarantees, for a minimum $25,000 bequest
left in a will, that the shelter will take in any animal
immediately after the owner passes away.
not surprising more people are trying to figure out how
to ensure their animals will be afforded the same
lifestyle they had before," Anderson said. "A
lot has changed in the last 20 years in terms of pets
and how they are seen as family."
of Mind will provide routine veterinary care for the
animalís life and immediate placement with a foster
family during the search for a new forever home. Pets
that prove unadoptable will live out their days with a
Peggy Adams volunteer, Anderson said.
Sims, of Delray Beach, Fla., enrolled in Peace of Mind
because her son, who moves frequently for his job, is
her only relative in the United States. Who would take
her two beloved cats, Lexi and Kumi, if she were gone?
was impressed by the Peggy Adams staff and their promise
that both animals would go to the same adoptive home.
would be heartbreaking for them if they were
separated," said Sims. "Theyíre always
Florida is fertile ground for lifetime pet planning
because of its high number of retirees, many living
alone, with no family nearby, said Deborah Goodall, a
Boca Raton probate and trust attorney with the firm
Goldman, Felcoski & Stone.
remembers one case when pets were unintentionally left
without food and water "longer than anyone would
have liked" because their owner had died
unexpectedly and no one knew to retrieve the animals.
talk specifically with people about who will take the
dog or cat, and how that will happen," said Goodall,
who is chair-elect of The Florida Barís real property,
probate and trust law section.
said Florida changed its trust code in 2006, making
requirements for animal trust options clearer. Animals
have limited legal rights as they are considered
property by law.
amount she places in a trust depends on an animalís
age and health and the lifestyle to which the pet has
become accustomed. Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley left
Trouble, her white Maltese, a $12 million inheritance.
After Helmsley died in 2007, Trouble was moved to
Sarasota. The dogís annual living expenses reportedly
were estimated at $190,000.
designate in advance who will be the petís caretaker;
who will oversee the trust; how the money will be used
(sometimes the caretaker draws a fee); and what will
happen to any funds left after the pet dies.
suggests also naming an alternate caretaker in case the
first choice canít take the pet, and giving directions
about what to do with the animalís remains upon death.
pet trust and estate bequests usually require attorney
fees, experts say there are some things forward-thinking
pet owners can do that cost nothing. These include:
carrying a wallet card to notify emergency personnel in
the event of an accident that you have unattended pets
at home; creating a pet document, kept with your
personal papers, that lists your petís veterinarian
and emergency caretakers; and posting a door sign
stating there are pets inside your house.
Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale also
has a program called Peace of Mind, similar to whatís
offered by Peggy Adams.
requirements start at $25,000, said senior vice
president Kathy Tricomi, and $100,000 ensures all of a
petís medical costs and special dietary needs are
covered for life.
attracted Plantation dog owner Sue Bracco about this
particular program, she said, is that her money would go
to support the societyís shelter, where she has done
canít take it with you, and I donít have kids,"
said Bracco, 53, a senior insurance consultant who owns
two pooches, Fausto and Miabella. "A lot of people
donít know about the program. I hand out pamphlets
about it to my friends."
Animal Rescue, based in Boca Raton, Fla., started what
it calls an "entrusted long-term pet care"
program about 18 years ago. It is raising money for a
new building with the hopes of expanding its program.
nonprofit organization, which runs a "no-kill"
shelter, does not euthanize animals unless they are
are very worried if no one will take their animals. But
they donít want to take them to a shelter because they
are afraid they will be put down," said co-founder
and executive director Suzi Goldsmith.
who pass away often leave behind older pets with serious
medical problems, making them less adoptable, said
Goldsmith. "We donít want them to be discarded
like old garbage," she said.
is no required amount for an estate bequest, she said,
and pets who canít be placed in new homes live out
their days in private quarters at the shelter.
will bequests are revenue generators, representatives of
the three organizations agreed the best reason to
encourage lifetime pet planning is to keep animals out
said seeing frightened animals brought in by relatives
after their owner unexpectedly dies or goes into a
nursing home "is one of the most difficult
situations we face."
times, these people are seniors "and the pet was
very attached to them," she said. The animal is
looking around like, ĎWhat happened? Why am I here?í"