I Died . . . What Happens to My Pets?

Pet Trust

This is a relevant question to anyone with pets.

Having been a pet owner for 40 years, and as an estate planning attorney for 23 years, I've been keenly interested in and have seen many different examples of what happens to pets when someone dies.

I will share one of the worst but true stories. Although very unpleasant, this story illustrates the problem.

I had a client in Mesquite, Nevada. She was a kind, elderly widow. She had a few pets that meant a lot to her. She had one son. As the only child, he was the primary beneficiary of the estate and the trustee of her trust.

The son lived on the east coast. He did not get a chance to visit his mother often. As a result, he developed no affection for her animals.

She died and he became my client. I helped him with the administration of his mom's belongings. His mother had a normal estate with a home, savings account and other personal property.

As part of her planning, we provided within her trust a $5,000 distribution for the caregiver of her animals. However, she instructed me not to name a third party organization to help with the animals because she "trusted" that her son would select someone and give the monies she allocated to the pet caregiver.

After his false, misrepresentation to me as his attorney, and unbeknownst to his mother's friends, he did not find a caregiver for the pets. Rather, he drove them into the desert and left them.

He did not know that his mother had placed microchips in each of the animals. One of the dogs was found. A friend of his mother was contacted and his terrible acts were discovered.

Recently, I talked to the director of P.A.W.S. (Providing Animals With Support). P.A.W.S. is a 501(c)(3) organization specifically dedicated to the rescue of animals scheduled to be euthanized due to lack of space at shelters.

The director shared many stories similar to mine. She lamented about families from outside the area coming in, administering the estate and while in town, dropping animals off at the pound. She explained that many of the animals are old and not highly sought after for adoption or foster homes.

Although these "stories" are the exception and most animals of a deceased family member are cared for with love and great affection, those of us with pets should take precautions to make sure we properly provide for our pets in our estate planning documents.

We need to provide instructions and select someone or some organization that will properly follow the directions in the will or trust.

On June 21st, as part of the Third Thursday Public Education Program, sponsored by the Law Offices of Barney, McKenna and Olmstead at 43 S. 100 E., Suite 300 from 5pm to 6pm, the public is invited to learn about Pet Trusts and Providing for Pets within an Estate Plan. The setting is designed for 10 to 12 participants. Although there is no charge, a prior reservation is strongly encouraged. You can call (435) 628-1711 to make a reservation. This Educational Forum is Co-Sponsored by P.A.W.S. A representative from P.A.W.S. will be present to discuss ways P.A.W.S. can serve as a third party organization to ensure your animals are properly placed in a caring environment at the time of your death.

Jeffery J. McKenna is a local attorney serving clients in Utah, Nevada and Arizona for 23 years. He is a shareholder at the law firm of Barney, McKenna and Olmstead with offices in St. George and Mesquite. He is a founding member and Past President of the Southern Utah Estate Planning Council.