ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Pet owners can spend a lot of time caring for their pets.
But owners don't always plan for who will care for their pet when they themselves die or become incapacitated. Far too often, Fido is an afterthought when a loved one goes to the hospital or an assisted living facility — or dies.
"It's something people don't typically think about," said Kendra Bader, an attorney with Moss & Barnett.
Now in Minnesota, pet owners can make sure their pets are cared for. In 2016, Minnesota became the last state in the U.S. to adopt pet trust legislation.
The law lumps in pets with personal property, which means they can't inherit any money themselves. But with a trust, a pet owner can provide funds to support a pet, designate a caretaker and outline how they want the pet to be cared for.
Bader worked with the Tri-County Humane Society to create a brochure for pet owners on how to prepare for their pet's future.
More than two-thirds of American households have a companion animal, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. That's 84.6 million homes.
"Clearly, it's something that people do care about, and a lot of us do treat our pets as family members," Bader told the St. Cloud Times . "I know I spend more time reading the labels of my dog's food than my own food."
Minnesota was definitely late to sanction pet trusts. Wisconsin created legislation in 1969, Montana in 1993. All the other states followed suit.
Before 2016, pet trusts could be created in Minnesota but they weren't enforceable, Bader said. It was also possible to leave money to someone to care for a pet, but there was no way to ensure that's what they did with the money.
"If, in a will, you designate $5,000 to your sister to watch Fido, you sister can turn around and really do whatever with the money," Bader said.
Too often, pets are seen as disposable, said Bethie Gondeck, executive director of Grey Face Rescue and Retirement, which focuses on caring for and finding homes for senior dogs, ages 7 and up, healthy or not.
Gondeck said they often hear from family members when a parent is going into a care facility that doesn't allow pets.
"That's how Grey Face got started," she said. "My uncle had to go into assisted living. Barnaby exceeded the weight limit for Good Shepherd ... he got to live with me."
She recommends planning ahead, "just like you would be planning ahead for any situation, just like you would create a will for your children." Gondeck said. "I'm only 28 and I have a plan for my dog."
Making a plan is worth it, Gondeck said.
"You don't want your family to be put in a situation where euthanasia is the only option," Gondeck said.
Bader recommends pet trusts, but you can also provide for your pet in your will. One benefit of trusts is that they can go into effect if you are still living, but incapacitated.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said a Pet Protection Agreement, which is essentially a contract between the pet owner and the future caretaker, is an easy-to-complete form.
Bader said she hasn't had experience with these directly, but she does say to exercise caution. "It's always best to have your attorney review it to confirm," Bader said.
Find a way to adequately identify your pet to prevent fraud. You can use photos, microchips or DNA.
Alternatively, you can describe your pet vaguely, as "the pet(s) owned by you at the time of your illness or death." Bader recommends this option because we tend to outlive most of our pets.
Describe in detail your pet's standard of living and care. Include habits, food preferences, medical conditions, medications, veterinarian information and records and behavior around other pets, people and children. You can also say where you want your pet boarded if your caregiver goes on vacation or how many walks a day they should go on, even down to the brand of dog food. Provide some options, in case certain choices aren't available.
"You want it to be within reason, for a custodian to be able to follow through with it," Bader said.
Bader recommends naming two people, so the trustee can oversee the actions of the caregiver to ensure your wishes are carried out. Require regular inspections by the trustee.
Bader also recommends naming a backup caregiver, or two or three. She recommends making your favorite rescue or shelter your last resort.
Calculate the cost of caring for your pet for its expected lifespan.
Also consider costs for creating and administering the trust. Bader said most likely, the pet trust can be prepared with your other will trust provisions, possibly without any additional cost.
Include whether you want your pet buried or cremated and where the remains should be placed. You can also designate where any remaining money in the trust should go after your pet dies.
In Minnesota, the trust can last until the last pet dies or up to 90 years. Bader said that is adequate to cover the lifetime of most pets, but some species may need special consideration.
Bader said attorneys typically try to prepare trust documents so they don't need to be updated. But if you have a major life event, or you move to another state, check to see if it needs to be updated.
An AP Member Exchange shared by the St. Cloud Times.