Nothing Is Certain But Death, Taxes and … Pets

By Larissa Barnes >>>

As tax season comes to a close, most of us are entertaining a small degree of financial planning, even if it is as pure and simple as wanting to pay fewer taxes next year. For some of us it prompts the chance to review our financial objectives and consider what plans we have in place. But how many people have considered their pets in that long-term vision?

As a shelter volunteer, there is nothing more devastating than seeing a beloved pet enter the shelter because the owner has been injured, gone into care or passed away. When a bereaved family member or friend walks “Puffy” the senior cat back to the cold, steel cage in the cat room because her owner died, you can just picture the owner rolling over in his grave. The love of his life is abandoned when she needs help the most. Puffy won’t eat, she cries, and her medications don’t come with her.

Then there is the man who was in a motorbike accident and no one knew he had a shy Yorkie puppy at home named “Chase” who isn’t discovered until seven days after the accident.

Alas, there is the daughter who Mom knew she could depend on, but who now “can’t” take her mother’s birds (Chirpy having been Mom’s favorite) when Mom is admitted to the nursing home. She doesn’t want to upset Mom, and instead tells her she found them all good homes.

These situations occur every day and they all have one thing in common – they didn’t have a plan! Neither do the owners of almost 500,000 pets per year that end up in a shelter because of incapacitation.

There are a few steps you can take to ensure you have a long-term vision for your pets:

Step One: Find two responsible caregivers for your pets in case of an emergency. Make sure these friends, neighbors or family members know your pets, their medications, care instructions, vet details and have keys to your house.

Step Two: Make sure neighbors and friends know about your pets. Carry a wallet “pet alert card” with the above caregivers listed. That way if you are in an accident the police will alert them. Create “in case of emergency” stickers that list your pets’ names and stick them near your front door or window in case emergency services personnel are called to your house. They will then look for your pets.

Step Three: Consider what you are going to do about permanent care and never assume your relatives will take responsibility for your animals. Put the plan in writing and make it formal. Include your pets in your will (this will only take effect if you are deceased) or in your trust, via your estate planner, in the event you are in hospice or on life support. We never know what can take us by surprise. Make a back-up plan in case the caregiver is incapable of fulfilling his or her commitment. Leave a designated amount of money for your pet’s care and the authority to make medical decisions. It is important to cover different scenarios, for example, re-homing the pet and euthanizing the pet.

It is also great to remember that costs associated with reviewing your trust or will are actually a tax deduction, so there is no reason to exclude “Puffy,” “Chase” and “Chirpy” in your future plans.

When you are thinking about taxes, consider making annual contributions to a charity you believe in. So many pet-based charities rely solely on single, monthly or annual donations to survive. Pets can be expensive and charities take on the vet costs for injured and sick animals prior to finding them homes – not to mention, the cost of providing hospice care for senior animals that are not adopted (such as Puffy the senior cat!). But not all charities are created equal:

Do some research and find a charity that you believe in, a charity that benefits the animal directly, rather than paying overhead for office space or employees. You want to know that your donation helped “Puffy the senior cat” get her medicine! If you prefer a larger charity, read the non-profit’s mission statement to make sure your beliefs are aligned with theirs.
Be sure the charity is IRS-qualified – a registered 501c3 with non-profit status, otherwise you will not be able to claim deductions.
Obtain a receipt for your donation, even if your donation is 20 bags of dog food.

Talk to your accountant. There are tips and tricks to help you reduce your taxes and there are rules that prevent you from being able to claim certain deductions. For example, a donor’s deductions are limited to 50 percent of the individual’s adjusted gross income. If you earn $60,000 and donate $35,000, only $30,000 will qualify as a deduction. Confusing? Yes, but remember your accountant’s bill is also a tax deduction, so it is worth getting professional advice!

So, if you are passionate about pets, both yours and those needing your help, now is the time to review things financially and long-term. There are many ways that helping charities can benefit you financially and help you lower your annual tax bill. By using this time to also review your plans for “Puffy,”“Chase” and “Chirpy,” it ensures your pets will be cared for, no matter what. Not all of us can have nine lives!