Courtesy Gifted Wings Ministry in Tulsa, Oklahoma
To minimize grief and anxiety, leave your bird in the care of someone she knows and trusts.
Birds are not only known for their intelligence, but also for their longevity. Amazons and African greys can live for more than 50 years in captivity. Macaws and cockatoos can live for up to 80 years! Owning a pet bird is no small commitment, but rather, one for a lifetime. Considering some species can live as long (or longer!) than some people, bird owners should be prepared for the possibility that their pet bird could outlive them. Have you taken steps to take care of your bird if something happens to you?
Here are 7 easy practical tips to consider:
Even if you have already taken care of your birds’ long-term future in your will or a trust or some other arrangement, your grieving birds will need someone to rely on for immediate care in the event of your death or temporary unexpected absence. You should have someone — a friend, family member or neighbor — whom you and your birds trust, who can take care of them for a few days, or even weeks, until your birds can be placed in their new permanent home. You probably already have informal arrangements with friends and neighbors who help out from time to time, but it is a good idea to have a formal conversation with someone you will ask to take on this serious responsibility.
You should keep written care instructions in an obvious, visible place. Make sure to include your veterinarian’s contact information! Consider also sending out important information about your bird or birds, including their biographical information (names, ages, genders), routines, diets, behavioral quirks, medical history, etc. in an email to a few trusted individuals so that if anything happens to your house or your documents, this information remains safe.
Remember, even though 91 percent of pet owners consider their pets to be family members, pets are legally considered personal property, so they cannot directly inherit money or property the way that people can. However, you can still take care of your bird by careful estate planning. Although there are kits and websites to help you write your own will or set up a trust, it is usually best to at least talk to a lawyer to make sure that your instrument is valid and will hold up in court. This is especially true if you are leaving a significant amount of your estate to care for your bird and you expect that other family members may object. Your state bar association can refer you to attorneys in your area with experience in estate planning who can provide free or low cost consultations.
If you leave your bird as a surprise in your estate to someone who isn’t ready to become a bird caregiver, your bird might end up without the loving home you have provided for so long. You can take some steps now to make sure that love and stability continues for your bird after you pass. When choosing a permanent guardian, remember to consider the important factors of health, trust and communication. You should pick a guardian in good health who you and your bird trust. Then you should communicate your decision to that person and make sure he or she understands the responsibility of becoming a bird owner and is willing to take it on. Think of a backup guardian, in case the first isn’t able to take on the responsibility.
Courtesy Gifted Wings Ministry in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Some species of birds can live 50 to 80 years!
One way to care for your bird or birds is to leave them to a friend or family member in your will, as you would with any other personal property. You can also leave this person other assets, such as money, to provide for the care of your bird. One downside of including your bird in your will is that it can take time for a will to be probated, so make sure you have someone who will take care of your bird until your estate can be distributed. Another downside is that when a person inherits your bird and assets by will, you cannot control what he/she does with them once the estate is closed.
For many bird owners, there is an alternative. Most states permit the creation of a Pet Trust, which is a specific, enforceable, legal arrangement you set out during your lifetime to provide, in detail, for the care of your bird. According to the ASPCA, as of 2012, all but four states had adopted some form of Pet Trust legislation. However, states will differ in their laws and how they apply them, so do your research and consult an attorney to make sure your wishes are clear, and your Pet Trust is valid and enforceable.
A Pet Trust sets aside assets to be held in trust for the lifetime benefit of your bird as a beneficiary. A trust, unlike a will, can go into effect without the hassle of probate, and can even begin with your incapacity, rather than with your death, if that is how you set it up. A Pet Trust provides some assurance that the assets you set aside for your bird’s care will actually be spent on your pet. According to the Uniform Trust Code (UTC), a Pet Trust "may be enforced by a person appointed in the terms of the trust or, if no person is so appointed, by a person appointed by the court.” That is, there is someone designated, usually a professional trustee, who controls the purse strings.
However, as Melissa Bond, a Doylestown, Pa. attorney, observes, many clients still opt to leave their pets, and some assets to provide for their care, to a friend or family member in their wills.
As Bond explains, this is because "they already have someone in mind that they trust unconditionally. They believe their friend will make decisions that are more like their own wishes, especially when it comes to end of life decisions for their pet, as opposed to an institutional trustee that might make more institutional decisions about their pet’s care. They feel their friend will be more compassionate, but will be restricted in having to ask the trustee to approve the finances, and they don’t want their friend to be restricted in this way.”
Particularly if you anticipate family members challenging your decisions later, it is best to do your estate planning while you are still healthy and of sound mind.
Review, Check And Double Check
Remember to review your arrangements with your attorney periodically to make sure they are still legally valid and that your current wishes are reflected. This is especially important if you move to a new state, as laws vary from state to state. As with any form of estate planning, the most important aspects of ensuring that your long-lived birds will be cared for after your death is to make your wishes known, talk about them with your friends and family, and know your legal rights and options.
Want to learn more about bird legal issues:
Therapy Birds: "Emotional Support Animal” Or Merely a Pet?
Birds & The Law