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updated: 8/28/2011 12:29 PM

Owners should plan for pet care after their death

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By Ellaine Kiriluk

While sitting in the dentist's office waiting for the dental hygienist to call my name, I had just enough time to quickly skim through OK magazine. One article was about Designer Alexander McQueen, who died this past year, leaving approximately $82,000 of his $26 million estate to his dogs Minter, Juice and Callum. He had planned ahead to make sure his dogs were taken care and protected. It got me thinking. How prepared am I for my animals to be taken care of if I get sick or die before them?

A lot of people worry about what will happen to their animals when they die.

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The Humane Society of the United States has prepared the fact sheet "Providing for Your Pet's Future without You." This fact sheet provides information to help you plan ahead to make sure your animals continue to receive food, water, shelter, veterinary care and love.

During an unexpected illness, accident or death, our pets may be overlooked. Pets may be discovered days later in the person's home. There are several ways to prevent this from happening. Find at least two friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers in case something happens to you. Provide them with keys to your home, feeding and care instructions, the name of your veterinarian and the permanent care provisions you've made for your pet. Make sure your neighbors, friends and relatives know how many pets you have and the names and contact numbers of the people who have agreed to act as temporary caregivers.

Carry a wallet "alert card" that lists the names and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregivers.

Post removable "in case of emergency" notices on your doors or windows, specifying how many and what types of pets you have. These will alert emergency responders during a fire or home emergency. Don't use stickers as they may have been left by a former resident. Firefighters may assume the sticker is outdated, or worse, risk their lives trying to find a pet no longer in the house.

Place a removable notice on the inside of your front and back doors listing emergency contact names and phone numbers. The HSUS notes pets need daily care and will need immediate attention should you die or become incapacitated. The importance of making these informal arrangements for temporary care giving cannot be overemphasized.

The HSUS also suggests the best way to make sure your wishes, regarding ensuring long term or permanent care for your pet if you become seriously ill or die, is by making formal arrangements that specifically cover the care of your pet. Work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust or other document to provide for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money necessary to provide for him. Keep in mind it's critically important to to make advance personal arrangements to ensure your pet is cared for immediately if you die or become incapacitated. The formalities of a will or trust may not take over for some time.

The HSUS notes setting up a trust which can provide for your pet immediately and can apply not only if you die, but also if you become ill or incapacitated, because you can determine when your trust becomes effective. When you create a trust for your pet, you set aside money to be used for his care and you specify a trustee to control the funds. According to the HSUS, a trust created separately from the will carries certain benefits:

• It can be written to exclude certain assets from the probate process so that funds are more readily available to care for your pet.

• It can be structured to provide for your pet even during a lengthy disability.

The HSUS also notes it's important to consult an attorney to determine and create the type of formal arrangement or legal document -- will, trust, power of attorney -- that is best for you and your pet, depending on your situation and needs. If you or your legal adviser would like more information, contact the HSUS Department of Philanthropy at (800) 808-7858 or the HSUS Office of the General Counsel at (202) 452-1100.

As responsible pet owners, we make lifetime commitments to our animals. That commitment continues, even if we die first.

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