Nov. 30--SANTA FE -- Shawn Deasy has a question that she wants anyone with a pet, or animals of any sort, to think about.
If you are rushed to the hospital with a medical emergency, if you are incapacitated or die, what will happen to your critters?
"Most people never think about it," the Santa Fe attorney said. "The result is a disaster for their animals."
In some cases, it might mean pets left alone without food or water for days, or even weeks, if the person is living alone, she said. Or it could mean a pet taken to the shelter, perhaps euthanized if no one adopts it.
"Everyone should carry a pet ID card with them," Deasy said, adding that people could make one of their own or get one from the local or national Humane Society. Carrying a card in their wallet identifying what pets they have, where they are kept, and whom to call to look after them can save a lot of grief in the long run, she said.
The same information, along with medical needs and other requirements for their pets, can be kept in a prominent place in the home, perhaps on a dining room table, she said.
A lifelong animal lover, Deasy said she spent the first 15 years of her career in California mostly working in malpractice defense of professionals, such as other lawyers and accountants. Then she spent 12 years in Albuquerque and now a couple of years in Santa Fe; she started practicing some animal law after coming to New Mexico.
Both for pay and as a volunteer, she said, she has provided some services for local animal rescue organizations. Part of her work has involved estate planning for your companion animals.
Deasy said New Mexico law allows for a pet trust, which you can fund based on your animal's life expectancy, the expected cost of its care, and maybe another $5,000 to $10,000 for veterinary care for unforeseen problems that might crop up -- if you can afford it, she said.
But you have to be careful not to overfund the trust. "If you put your $200,000 home in a trust for an 18-year-old cat, the courts probably will agree the trust is overfunded and void it," Deasy said.
That brings to mind hotel owner Leona Helmsley who, when she died in 2007, left $12 million in a trust to care for her 8-year-old Maltese dog. Court action later reduced that amount to $2 million.
That's still probably way more than you would have to allocate to your pets, unless they've been living like billionaires.
In any case, Deasy said she has charts to help estimate expenses.
Such a trust usually designates a trustee, who oversees the paying out of the money, and a caretaker, who will provide the home and care for the pet. Deasy says she suggests the trust designate, in order of preference, three people for each position, since people sometimes say after the fact that they really don't want to take care of the animal.
If you can't afford to set up a trust -- a lawyer may charge from $200 to $1,000 for such a service -- Deasy advises including something in your will. Most will packages include designating someone with durable power of attorney for financial matters, she said. As part of naming that person, you can give instructions on care of your animals.
If you don't have a trust, that's the only other legally enforceable document to provide care for your animals, she said.
But, if nothing else, at least carry a pet ID card with names and numbers of people who can get into your house and will take care of your pets, she advised.
"The biggest thing is to think about these things and then take action," Deasy said. "Start talking with friends and relatives. Usually something can be worked out."
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