What If Your Pet Outlives You?

By Sharon Naylor

June 15, 2015 5 min read

You take excellent care of your pets. You feed them the best quality food, tend to their health, take them everywhere you go and perhaps even dress them up for the holidays (or on any day). They're your babies, and you love them dearly -- which is why you need to make a careful plan to provide for your pets if they should outlive you.

Animal shelters are filled with baby, adult and senior pets whose owners passed away without making solid plans to have a willing friend or relative assume ownership of their pets. While some pets are quickly snapped up by new families, others languish sadly in their depressing new home. And others meet terrible fates. If you never want to imagine your pet winding up in such a sad situation, start planning to provide for your pet's care. Here are some steps to follow:

--Talk to your closest friends, family and neighbors to let them know you're "estate planning" for your pet, and ask if they'd be willing to take ownership of your pet or pets if they should outlive you. Choose not just one but two trusted and very willing people to assume ownership of your pet if you are hospitalized or if you should pass away. Your best contenders are people your pet is used to already. Designate who gets your pet in the immediate time after your incapacitation or demise and who will take permanent custody if not the immediate care person.

--Provide all of your pet's care information to your immediate caretaker, and make copies for anyone who eventually assumes ownership of your pet. The Humane Society of the United States advises providing your immediate caretaker with keys to your home, feeding and care instructions, contact information for your veterinarian where they can get your pet's medicine list and wellness schedule, and any particulars about your pet, such as what comforts him during a thunderstorm. Also provide a copy of your pet care plan, such as your pet trust.

--In your own home, post a removable "in case of emergency" sign on your doors or windows, letting emergency personnel know how many pets you have inside the house. Don't use hard stickers for this task, as they can be left behind after you move, and emergency personal may assume the sticker is outdated. Always write the date in the corner of your removable decal. Also add your emergency contact numbers to this decal, so that emergency services can contact your chosen pet caretaker.

--Add to your wallet a card with your pet caretaker's contact information, should anything happen to you while you're away from your home.

You may be thinking, "Giving my pet to someone is one thing, but what about the cost of my pet's care? Can I leave money to my pet in my will?" According to the experts at legal form service Nolo, you cannot use your will to leave money or property to your pet. If you attempt to, the money and property you designate for your pet will be legally included in your residuary estate, to be handled by your executor.

Talk to your attorney about creating a pet trust that will become a legal and enforceable document to create a legal obligation to care for your pet according to your instructions. And a pet trust also provides for accountability for any monetary sum you leave to the caretaker (with your attorney's carefully phrased wording specifying how monies should be used). For instance, if you name a caretaker in your trust, giving him your dog and $3,000 for your dog's care, he doesn't get that money if the dog does not outlive you. It's always a smart idea to protect yourself and your pet with a legal document specifying and enforcing your pet care wishes, to the best of the law's ability.

If you do not have a willing friend or relative, you may be able to leave your pet to a program or organization that has a legacy program offering care and home replacement of pets left to their care. It may be a program found through the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or it might be a local veterinary school with a legacy program. Always research these programs well before committing your pet to their care.

If you don't create a pet care plan, your pet will be given to the beneficiary of your will -- which is why it's so important to refresh your will often, should your relationships or your wishes change regarding the person you'd like to inherit your estate. And if you don't have a will or a beneficiary, the state will award your pet to your next of kin, as determined by the state. It's important to make your plans for your pet legal and official for your peace of mind, your loved ones' peace of mind and your pet's well-being.

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