As a pet parent, of course you want the best for your fur babies. A pet power of attorney is one step in accomplishing that.
Maybe you take them to the nicer pet salon, cook their meals (no food from a can here!), or take them with you on trips. Yes, you count your pet as a family member, but in most cases, the law treats them as property. What this means is that if you for some reason can’t take care of your pet, the law doesn’t offer specifics in terms of how to authorize care.
Sure, you may have even spoken to trusted friends and family members about them. However, these informal types of arrangements don’t necessarily provide ample protection in emergency situations. Creating a pet power of attorney ensures that your pet is treated with love and care, especially when you can’t.
What Exactly is a Pet Power of Attorney?
A pet power of attorney is a power of attorney (POA) that’s specifically designed for pets. Sometimes referred to as a letter of attorney, a power of attorney is a written document that legally authorizes a designated person to act on another person’s behalf. In this case, this document authorizes someone to act on your behalf as it relates to your pet.
When creating a pet power of attorney, the document will state that you are the principal or grantor — aka the person who authorizes another person to act on their behalf. The authorized person is also called the attorney in fact or agent. And while, you’re at it, make sure your own affairs are in order with a will for yourself.
The main idea behind a pet power of attorney is to formalize the arrangement you have with someone else. This person is required by law, once the document is signed, to make sure your requests are adhered to as much as possible.
For example, you want to make sure your dog, Fluffy, will be able to maintain their same lifestyle. You create a pet power of attorney so that if you’re too ill to take care of Fluffy, your aunt (the agent) will carry out your wishes. Your wishes could be to continue to purchase the same brand of dog food and authorize any medical procedures to make sure Rover can still run around his favorite park.
Why Do I Have to Put My Wishes In Writing?
There’s nothing wrong with trusting that your favorite aunt or your best friend will know what to do when it comes to Fluffy. Surely, they’ll know what to do in an emergency right?
We’re not questioning whether this person is trustworthy. It’s more about eliminating any confusion or miscommunication that may happen when it comes to your wishes. Creating a pet power of attorney will make it clear what you want Fluffy taken care of.
Let’s say you’re incapaciated and Fluffy ends up being in a car accident. Your dog needs to be rushed to the veterinarian for emergency surgery to the tune of a few thousand dollars. Your aunt is already distraught and is unsure of what to do, even though you mentioned to her years ago that money is no object when it comes to Fluffy.
Here’s where the pet power of attorney can alleviate this stress: your aunt no longer has the burden of making the decision. Instead, she presents the pet power of attorney, outlining your exact wishes to the vet, and Fluffy gets her surgery.
At the end of the day, it’s about making sure your wishes are met, your pet is safe, and it helps to lessen the burden on someone else making sure they’ve made the right decision.
What Are The Different Types of Pet Power of Attorney?
The type of pet power of attorney you want to create will depend on your situation and how long you want this arrangement to be.
Non-Durable (Limited) Power of Attorney
This type of POA is for when you want to designate a person to temporarily make decisions when it comes to your pet. You can also stipulate in the document specific tasks they’re authorized to do, which limits them from taking over all decision making.
A limited durable pet power of attorney can only be enforced while you’re still alive and can take care of yourself. If you pass away or become incapacitated, you’ll have to make sure you have a more permanent solution.
A non-durable power of attorney could be used in instances when you’re on a business or personal trip and leave your pet with someone else. You can create the document so that it “expires” when you return from your trip and limit this person to getting your permission first before authorizing payment for a medical procedure.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a more permanent arrangement, one that doesn’t have an expiry date. You can have it take effect immediately and even stipulate that this person will take care of your pet even after you die or become incapacitated. Some states may have different regulations so its best to check your state guidelines by looking up your local bar association.
What this means is unless you change it in writing otherwise, once you name the agent for your pet power of attorney, it’ll continue to be valid. You can revoke this document at any time. Although you can name anyone as the agent, you can’t name someone who is involved with providing healthcare to your pet, like a vet.
The person you name as the agent is responsible for carrying out your wishes, including the financial decisions. As in, the agent has full authority to make decisions on your behalf, including choosing not to move forward with a medical procedure if need be.
If you name someone else to watch your pet, the agent is also responsible for ensuring that it’s brought safely to them.
Yes, you read that right. The person who watches your pet doesn’t have to be the same person who makes the financial and health decisions. Of course, you can name one person for both these responsibilities.
How Do I Create a Pet Power of Attorney?
Once you’ve figured out what type of pet power of attorney you want, it’s time to figure out what power you want to grant to your agent and to keep to yourself. Do you want to make the final financial decisions, or leave it up to the person you designate?
Whatever you decide, make sure that you provide plenty of details so that everyone involved understands the arrangement.
You have a choice whether you want to hire an attorney to draft one for you or create your own. If you’re going the DIY route, there are plenty of free templates available online or inexpensive options from websites like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer.
Since different states may have different requirements, it’s best to look for a reputable source. Or, at the very least, hire a lawyer to look at your draft to make sure you have your bases covered.
Once it’s created, you’ll need to sign it and in many cases, notarize in front of two witnesses. Then, give a copy to the agent(s) and your vet.
Creating a pet power of attorney might feel like a tedious task, but it’s worth it. Having the peace of mind that comes with knowing Fluffy is taken care of is priceless.
Contributor Sarah Li-Cain is a personal finance writer based in Jacksonville, Florida, specializing in real estate, insurance, banking, loans and credit. She is the host of the Buzzsprout and Beyond the Dollar podcasts.