Pet Planning You Don't Want to Think About, But Should

Petting dog
You should have a plan in place in case something happens to you and you can no longer take care of your pet.

Do you have a plan for your pets if you die or become unable to care for them? It’s not something that any of us like to think about, but it may be a matter of life and death for our pets. Because I am not getting any younger, it’s something I’ve had to consider myself — and I think it’s important that you do, as well.

There’s lots of good information out there about how to include pets in a will or set up a trust for them. But while it's important to make sure that your pets are financially provided for in the event of your death, that's not the whole picture. It's also crucial to decide exactly who will care for your pets or be in charge of finding them a new home.

Too often, I hear sad stories of old or sick animals being left at shelters because an owner has become ill or disabled or has died without making any plans for their pets. To make sure that doesn’t happen to your beloved dog, cat, parrot or other pet, take the following steps to find an appropriate caregiver and develop a backup plan.

Who Gets Your Pets?

We rely on our families for so many things, including help and support in emergencies. But while your siblings, parents and children may be delighted to see and spend time with your animals, don't assume that family members are your only — or even the best — option when it comes to caring for your pets. They may be unwilling or unable to take your animals into their home should something happen to you, or they may not understand the best ways to find new homes for your pets.

Instead of assuming that a family member will step up and take responsibility for your pets, talk with your family and be absolutely certain that they are willing and able to care for your animals in the way that you would like. Be clear about your expectations and about the amount of time and effort involved in caring for your pet. Family members may be more likely to agree to serve as a caretaker if they know what they're getting into. If your pets are thrust upon family members without warning, however, your family may be overwhelmed by the responsibility and may feel that a shelter is the best — or the only — solution.

As an alternative to family, consider friends or neighbors who have pets of their own, especially the ones who have the same type of pet you do or whose animals know your animals and get along with them. Choose someone you trust to care for your pet in a loving and responsible way. If you feel able, propose setting up a reciprocal agreement with them: “I’ll take your pets if you’ll take mine.”

No matter who you choose, put the agreement in writing. Include specific information about how you would like your pets cared for — the type of food they eat, the veterinarian they go to, their grooming needs, individual quirks, etc. You and your potential pet guardian should both have a copy of this agreement, and it should be included with your will or other documents related to your estate. Revisit the agreement every year or so to make sure it still works for both of you. Think about limiting the number of pets you have as well so that your chosen caretaker isn’t swamped with new animals all at once, or make plans to place different pets with different people.

I also recommend identifying a backup caretaker in the event that your first choice is unable to care for your pets at the time of your death or disability — people's situations change, and it is always possible that your caretaker may not actually be able to take on a new pet when the time comes. The backup caretaker should be someone who would be willing and able to step in, either temporarily or permanently, to care for your animals.


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