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  • Writer's pictureMindy Schwartz

Have You Planned For Your Pets' Future If You're Not There?

Have you ever thought about what will happen to your pets if something happens to you? While we all consider our animals a part of our family, the law considers them property, no different than a car or chair.

Our usual understanding is that pets’ lives are too short, and that we will probably have to say goodbye when they pass. However, sometimes pets are left behind by their humans. My husband and I recently learned how important it is to make provisions for permanent care if needed. Someone close to us was found dead in his condo. After the initial shock had passed, I remembered that he had a cat. Fortunately, the cat had already been found and turned over to the Humane Society by the police. This experience made me realize the importance of making arrangements for my pets’ future.

Every pet owner should consider your animals when you are preparing your will or trust. Since pets are considered property, you can’t leave them money. But you can leave them to a caregiver along with enough money to make sure they are cared for appropriately.

If you are fortunate enough to have a friend or family member who knows and loves your pets, they are probably the best solution. If they are willing to take care of your animals but would have a financial hardship, you can leave them enough money to pay for expenses in your will or living trust. However, this method does not create a legal obligation. Your pets’ caregiver can use the money any way they choose.

Another option is to create a “pet trust.” These trusts are stronger, more complex and more expensive than previous options. They do create a legal obligation, however, so if the caregiver uses the money for something other than the pets’ needs, they can be sued.

You also may be able to find a non-profit shelter to take your pets and find them new homes. Sometimes these shelters require a specific donation amount to cover the cost of caring for your pet until they can be placed with a new family. If you decide to go that route, you should make sure that these arrangements are clearly indicated in your will or trust.

Service animals can present a unique situation. For example, if your dog came from a service dog organization, these groups sometimes include a clause in the adoption agreement that specifies that the dog must go back to them. You should check your records to see if that is an option.

Petfinder has some good suggestions here on how to make sure your pets are cared for properly if you get unexpectedly ill. They suggest finding at least two responsible friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers in the event that something happens to you. You should provide these potential caregivers with the following:

  • Keys to your home.

  • Feeding and care instructions.

  • Your veterinarian’s name and contact information.

You should also include information about the permanent care arrangements you have made for your pet.

None of us want to face the fact that we might leave our beloved pets alone, but part of being a good pet caretaker is making sure that they have happy and healthy lives after we are gone.

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