No matter your age and health status, it is important to think about what will become of your family – including the furry members – should you become incapacitated or pass away.
Shelters take in far too many orphaned dogs and cats because prior arrangements were not made on their behalf. As heartbreaking as it is to consider, taking the time to plan for the worst may be the kindest choice you ever make for your pets.
Prepare for an Emergency
– Elect at least two trusted friends or family members as emergency caregivers and provide them with keys to your home; feeding and care instructions; your veterinarian’s contact information; and any permanent care provisions you have made for your pets (will, trust, Power of Attorney, etc). They should also know how to contact one another.
– Carry an information card in your wallet listing how many dogs and/or cats you have at home and who to contact in case of an emergency. If you are unable to speak, first responders will find the card and contact your designated pet caregivers.
– Post pet alert stickers at all major entrances of your home so emergency responders can clearly see how many and what types of pets you have.
– Prepare a document for each pet detailing their daily routines and individual needs. Include important aspects like diet, exercise, likes, dislikes, fears, allergies, behavioral issues, medical conditions, etc. Give copies to each of your designated caregivers and place others with the rest of your important documents to ensure they are easily found in the event of your absense.
Choose a Permanent Caregiver
When deciding who to trust with the care of your beloved pets, you have two main choices – an individual or an organization.
A close family member or friend may seem like the obvious choice, but remember, circumstances change over time. Your adult children may offer to take in your dogs now, but in a few years they may have dogs – or kids – of their own and no longer feel prepared to care for more.
If you do not have a reliable friend or relative, entrusting your pets to the care of a rescue, rehoming or “pet retirement” organization may be an option.
Public shelters are overcrowded and unable to promise refuge to every needy pet. Instead, consider forming a relationship with a private rescue organization that offers end-of-life support like Animal Friends in Pittsburgh. Through their Lifesavers Program, pet owners can make a one-time donation of $5,000 in exchange for guaranteed sanctuary for their pet until a suitable home can be found.
Safe Place for Pets is a business entirely devoted to caring for and rehoming the pets of terminally-ill patients. They ensure that their clients’ beloved cats and dogs are placed in “only the most loving, caring, life long homes.”
There is also the growing trend of “pet retirement” facilities such as the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at Texas A&M University’s veterinary school and the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats. Facilities such as these offer lifetime care for dogs and cats in the event that their current owners are no longer able. Pet parents usually pay an enrollment fee and set up an endowment to cover future costs.
Ensure Long-Term Care With a Legal Document
Whether you choose to entrust your pets to an individual or an organization, be sure to get the details of the agreement in writing! Reputable organizations will have their own set of documents that a legal professional should review with you.
The most common legal avenues for entrusting a pet to an individual include writing them into your will, creating a trust on their behalf, and electing a Power of Attorney. Your lawyer can assist you in determining the best options for you.
Although wills are legally binding, they are only enforceable in the event of your death. Even then, it can take weeks (or longer) for the document to be legally processed, leaving your pets vulnerable in the meantime. In addition, money cannot be left directly to an animal, only to a designated caregiver listed in the will. Technically, that person can then choose to do whatever they want with those funds.
Trusts are often the preferred route for pet parents because they can be written to take effect immediately if you become ill or incapacitated. With a trust, you set aside money to be used for your pets’ care and you specify a trustee to control the funds. These documents can also be written to exclude assets from the probate process so they are immediately available to your pets and their caretakers. Learn more about Pet Trusts here.
Many people also choose to appoint a specific person or organization to handle their affairs in the event that they become physically or mentally incapacitated. This document is called a Power of Attorney and it can be beneficial for pet owners by allowing the appointed person to take over responsibility for their pets immediately.
Estate planning on behalf of dogs and cats is no longer considered eccentric or frivolous. In fact, it is an essential aspect of modern pet ownership. Preparing for an emergency and implementing a legal blueprint for their continued care could ensure that your pets continue to live long, happy lives, even in your absence.