Pet power of attorney: More people are planning around their pet, expert says

BOSTON — It’s National Love Your Pet Day, and while you might treat them like family, under the law, they're property.

That means you can’t leave them money in your will, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure they’re protected.

You’ve probably heard of the stories of someone dying and leaving their entire fortune to their dog. That’s not entirely how it works. You can leave all your money to ensure your pet is taken care of, but it has to be done in a certain way.

Pets — from rabbits to horses — as much as we see them as family, are considered property, so you can’t name them as a normal benefactor in your will, said Peter Elikann, Boston 25 legal analyst.

“You hear these sad tragic stories where a pet will live 15 years and the owner suddenly dies and that pet gets suddenly taken away to some shelter,” Elikann said.

“You can’t leave money to your property but you can get around this by setting up a trust, on behalf of the dog, you can set it up very specifically saying, ‘I want him fed for the rest of his life, this brand, and I want him taken to this his favorite park and I want him to be on this kind of blanket,’” Elikann said.

Mary Kate D’Souza co-founded an online health and estate planning company called Gentreo and she says more people are planning around their pet.

“In America now, not as many people are getting married now and having families and their animals are their families and so they want to take care of them,” D’Souza said.

As part of their plans, they now offer pet power of attorney.

“It helps particularly with financial issues because vets and other caregivers are reluctant to do a major surgery,” D’Souza said.

She says it’s a concern for people who travel often and are sometimes not immediately reachable online or by phone.

“A friend of ours, his girlfriend was in charge of his pet and the pet required a $7,000 surgery to be made healthy and the vet wouldn’t do it,” D’Souza said.

But a pet power of attorney won’t help in case of owner death. That’s why they are considering offering a product to put together pet care trusts next.

“Your pet is viewed as your property, so it would be distributed as your property so in order to make sure your pet is financially cared for you need to do a pet trust,” D’Souza said.

It’s important never to assume that an informal arrangement is enough. Circumstances change. Legally binding documents ensure there’s a person to care for your pet, either temporarily or for the rest of its life.