Who Will Care for Your Pets if You Die?

March 17, 2019

My fur-baby, Tilde

Almost every other home in the United States and Britain has a pet. Most of us haven’t thought about what will happen to them when we can’t care for them any longer, though. The National Cremation society has some grim statistics about pets who end up at shelters because their owners pass away.  It’s important to make arrangements for your furry friends, just in case.

Depending on the situation and the pet, it makes sense to ask friends and family if they would be willing to take your pets.  They might be most familiar with their habits and personalities. Make sure to ask the person if they are willing to care for your pet and don’t just assume they will. You’ll also need to stay in contact with that person in case something changes. They may not be willing or able to take on a new pet. You’ll also need to document it in your will – it’s not enough just to discuss it – and it’s smart to have an alternate, just in case.

If you have large pets like horses or livestock, you’ll need to make even more detailed arrangements. I have friends with lots of exotic pets including snakes, reptiles and tarantulas and you can’t just ask any casual friend to care for them. They need to go to someone with experience (and the desire to live with a bunch of big spiders!). We have a tortoise who will outlive all of us so have already made arrangements for him to go to the local tortoise rescue group (along with a donation).  They can re-home him with a tortoise lover when we’re gone.

Leaving Funds in a Will

While you can’t leave money to a pet, you can leave money to someone who has agreed to care for your pets.  This is the cheapest way to provide funds for their care, but it may take a while for an estate to settle.  That leaves your pets in limbo until it does.  It also doesn’t apply until your death, so if you are hospitalized or incapacitated, your caregivers won’t be able to legally remove your pets or access funds to care for them.

Setting up a Pet Trust

You can also set up a pet trust.  This has the advantage of kicking in as soon as you are incapacitated, rather than a will which make take time to settle.  It also controls the outflow of money to caregivers. Great article here about why a trust is a good solution. The ASPCA has a Pet Trust Primer that breaks it down even further.

Regardless of the legal solution you decide on, it’s also a good idea to make up a sheet for each pet that lists:

  1. Name, birth date and breed
  2. Medical information including vaccination dates and allergies
  3. Veterinarian name, phone and address
  4. Likes and dislikes, food preferences, and favorite toys

Leave that information someplace obvious and plan now to care for your furry friends!



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