If Something Happens to You, What Happens to Your Pets? Learn How to Plan for Them

Sanctuaries and Perpetual Care Programs

It’s not terribly uncommon for people to have no one in their lives who can take their pets — this is especially true for those who are prone to taking on multiple special-needs pets. If you are unable to designate a caregiver, 2nd Chance 4 Pets suggests looking into animal sanctuaries and perpetual care programs, or animal care panels. Sanctuaries and perpetual care programs are designed to take in animals in need of a home, sometimes with the intent of re-homing and sometimes with the understanding the pets will live out their lives there, receiving food, shelter, and medical care.

There’s a wide variety of types of facilities, ranging from shelter-like environments to those that are set up like homes, and there’s a wide range of costs involved as well — the perpetual care program at the Kansas State University College of Medicine requires a minimum endowment of $25,000 for small companion animals, while the Texas A&M University Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center requires endowments between $50,000 and $100,000 by bequest (less if paid in full, up front), depending on the age of the owner. So it’s best for interested owners to do their homework on these facilities well before the time comes to make a final decision.

“A sanctuary or perpetual care program can be a great solution for a pet owner who is unable to identify a committed backup caregiver. [It's] especially important for pets with special needs or if there are a large number of pets in the household,” Shever says. “However, a pet owner needs to thoroughly evaluate the programs they are considering to ensure that the environment is the right place for their pets to live out the rest of their lives.2nd Chance 4 Pets provides details about hundreds of U.S. programs in addition to providing a comprehensive evaluation checklist on the Resources tab of our website.”

Animal Care Panels

Animal care panels are probably the least-known option of the bunch and are best for homeowners with numerous, hard-to-place animals. Setting up a panel involves choosing a group of people to be responsible for ensuring your pet care instructions are followed throughout the lives of your pets. The pets remain in your home, together, and a caregiver is selected by the panel to live there with them. The caregiver’s duties are outlined in a legally binding document, and members of the panel check in on the health of the pets.

For this to be successful, the owner would need to leave long-term funding, not only for the care of the animals but also for home expenses, including mortgage payments and other potential future costs. The caregiver may be provided with monetary compensation, but, regardless, a separate trustee should be in charge of the trust to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

Though you’re not asking a friend or family member to take on the care of all your pets, there are still quite a few important parties involved in this option, so communication is crucial. In fact, no matter what you decide to do with your pets, it is important that you are as clear as possible about your plans. This was illustrated recently in the case of a dog named Bela: Due to some perceived aggression issues, Bela's owner requested he be euthanized when she passed away — or that he go to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. However, the owner had never made arrangements with the sanctuary, and it wasn’t until the story made national news that Best Friends knew anything about it.

Now, let's go back to that original question: If something happens to you, what happens to your pets? If you don't have an answer yet, now's the time to start planning.

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