New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law


Taking Care of Your Service Animal When Something Happens to You

There is a well known saying: “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Let’s face it, no one likes to think about their own mortality. But those of us who have family and pets should consider having a will drawn up and/or a trust established to ensure that our family and pets are taken care of.

It is important that pet owners think about where they want their pets to end up after the owners pass away. Equally important, service animals can survive their disabled owners. But there are other reasons why it is important to consult with an attorney to prepare certain papers to ascertain that your pet is taken care of. Consider these three scenarios:

  • You and your service animal have been involved in an accident. You are taken to the hospital, and your service animal is taken to the veterinarian. While you are incapacitated in the hospital, your service animal is in need of veterinary care. Is there anyone who can speak for you on behalf of your service animal? Is there anyone who can sign your checks or access your bank accounts to pay the veterinarian or veterinary hospital?
  • You have been involved in an accident. Your service animal, however, is unharmed. While you are incapacitated in the hospital, who will be responsible for taking care of your service animal? Who will feed and bathe your service animal? Do you have an arrangement with anyone who will do so? Also, as long as you are in the hospital, the service animal will not be working. The longer you are in the hospital, it is possible that your service animal will forget what he or she has been trained to do. What is the best way to ascertain that your service animal remembers what he or she has been trained to do?
  • You have passed away unexpectedly. Do you want your service animal to be returned to the organization that trained him or her? Do you want the service animal to be given to another person who has the same disability that you have? Or do you want the service animal to retire and live with a friend or family of your choice? Also, there are significant costs associated with feeding and bathing the animal, so consider leaving a reasonable sum of money to cover these costs for a reasonable period of time.

Each of the above scenarios should get you thinking about your service animals when you are not around to help. It is critical to realize that a Will only kicks in after the person passes away. Thus, under the first two scenarios, a Will will not help at all. Instead, other documents, such as power of attorney and financial power of attorney, will need to be prepared in order for your pets to be taken care of.

Caption: Photo of a handshake between a dog and human

A good estate planner will provide you a questionnaire, and some of the questions should ask you about your pets. If there aren’t any questions about pets, tell the estate planner that you have a service animal and ask for their professional opinion.

If you’re new to the concept of pet wills and pet trusts, I highly suggest starting with the following blog posts: A Will… a way… to protect your Pets?, Can I put my pet in my will?, What is a pet trust?, and Why do I need a pet power of attorney? Each of these blog posts were written by Danny Meek, an attorney in Florida. His Pet Trust Blog is among the best and most informative blog on the subject I’ve seen anywhere. For more indepth analysis and technical aspects of drafting will provisions and establishing pet trusts, I highly recommend perusing the materials at Professor Beyer’s website, starting with Estate Planning for Non-Human Family Members.

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    Excellent article and important information. Thank you.