Most of us with Fidos, felines and other pets have probably thought about who we
would like to care for them if they outlive us. Perhaps we even informally ask a family
member or friend to look after them in such an event. But the reality is in many cases
these arrangements fall through. The expected adopter might find your pet doesn’t get
along with their brood or they don’t have the money to support another animal. Maybe
they just go back on their word and dump your beloved pal at the pound.
So what can you do to make sure your pets are cared for properly if they outlive you?
There are a few options.
First, you can certainly put a note in your will with your wishes. You can name a
caretaker or organization that you wish the pet to be given to and even leave a sum of
money to cover its care. Obviously, it is wise to make sure whomever you name in this
capacity is willing and capable of adopting your pet before making this declaration in
your will. In all cases, it is a good idea to talk to your executor as well, to make sure he
or she truly understands all aspects of your wishes for your estate.
It also is wise to keep in mind that while a will might be an easier way to plan for your
pet’s future without you, it is not the best. For the purposes of a will, your pets are
considered property. And you cannot leave money to property. So if you decide to leave
$3,000 for the care of your cat, you must leave that amount to a person, presumably the
intended caretaker. That person, however, is not legally required to use the money for
the care of the pet. In fact, if they wanted, they could drop the cat off at a shelter and
use the cash for a shopping spree. Ideally, you pick a trusted person and they follow
through on their promise to care for your pet. But just know they are not legally required
to do so.
In certain states, another option – albeit one that’s more complicated and expensive due
to additional legal paperwork – is to create a trust for your pet. A trust will allow you to
leave money specifically for the pet’s care. The person you name to care for your pet is
legally required to abide by the trust and can be sued if they don’t follow the instructions
you leave within it.
When you set up a trust, you will name a caretaker and can designate an amount of
money to be left for the pet’s care. You can and should leave very specific instructions
about how you would like the pet cared for, details about food and any medicine, the
preferred veterinarian, favorite types of toys, habits, etc. The bottom line is you want to
make sure the pet has the easiest transition to a new home as possible. Familiar foods,
toys and habits can make this more likely. You should also name someone to check up
on your pet and be the one to go to court if your instructions are not being followed.
A benefit of a trust also is that you can set it up to take effect if you become
incapacitated and cannot care for your pet. Keep in mind that pet trusts are not legally
binding in every state, so you will want to talk to an estate attorney about whether it is a
worthwhile document for you to create.
So what happens if you don’t know of anyone who can care for your pet? You can reach
out to veterinarians, rescue groups or organizations like the Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which has local chapters across the country. They can
help you make arrangements so that you have the peace of mind that your pet will be
cared for if it outlives you.