Superstorm Sandy packed a wallop when it struck the East Coast earlier this fall, prompting many people to reevaluate their estate administration plans. In an eerie repeat of Katrina, a significant number of pets were left stranded when their owners evacuated, largely because people had not prepared for the tough decisions that come along with fleeing with their furry friends. Estate planners say that this devastating decision can be avoided by creating disaster and estate plans for four-legged companions.

Representatives from the ASPCA say that estate plans can provide for pets after their owners pass away. As many as 100,000 pets each year are abandoned in shelters because their guardians pass away or become incapacitated. In total, more than 5 million pets are left in shelters each year. Workers are forced to euthanize the majority of those animals because of limited care facilities. Abandonment numbers increase in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, according to experts, because of massive evacuation efforts.

Massive natural disasters can be a positive force for change, though, with many pet owners choosing to update their estate plans after realizing the frailty of their own situations. You can avoid sending your pet to a shelter after your death simply by providing some legal guidance in your estate plan. Pets are considered property under most state laws. To ensure their continued care, you must name a pet guardian to care for your furry friends after your death.

Currently, fewer than 20 percent of all pet owners have included legal provisions addressing pet care after their deaths. Those steps include bequeathing your pet to a person, creating funding for your pet through a trust or using other enforceable documents to protect your pet. Putting your pet in your will is just the first step. You can pay for your pet’s continued care through a modest trust, even if you are not wealthy, according to experts. Short- and long-term pet trusts are widely available on the Internet at only modest costs, say attorneys. Those provisions can bring you peace of mind, ensuring that your pet will be financially secure even after your death.

Luis E. Barreto