Making Sure Your Pets Are Cared for After You Die

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.