Pets may have shorter expected life spans than their guardians, but there remains the possibility of a guardian dying before their pet. It’s uncomfortable enough contemplating the possibility of losing a pet, let alone the reverse; but whereas the decision to euthanize an elderly or chronically ill pet is one that need only be made in some (hopefully far) distant future, pet guardians have no way of knowing when is the ‘right’ time to plan for their pets’ future without them.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 5 to 7 million pets enter animal shelters each year, and 3 to 4 million are euthanized (60 per cent of dogs and 70 per cent of cats). You don’t want to contemplate your mortality, but responsible pet guardians find the thought of their pets abandoned equally disturbing.
Consider it an extension of your responsibilities as a pet guardian. People secure their family’s future through wills and trusts, and for many, pets are part of the family.
Plans made for your pet in the event of your death also apply in the event of temporary incapacitation or forced absence. For example, if you’re stranded in a remote location, at least the well-being of your pet can be ticked off your list of immediate concerns.
So what should pet guardians do?
Providing for your pets’ future requires a short-term plan and a long-term plan. Wills and trusts that leave clear instructions pertaining to pet care, and allocate resources for that purpose, are the most secure means of ensuring their safety. But, it takes time for instructions to take effect. Your priority is to ensure your pets are cared for in the interim. Pet Finder recommends pet guardians take the following measures:
- Appoint two trusted friends or relatives as emergency caregivers for your pet. Give them instructions regarding your pet’s dietary requirements and medications. Ensure they have a set of keys to your home, so they can gain access to your pet immediately. After all, who knows how long your pet may have gone without food or water by the time people realize your absence.
- Ensure that anyone who discovers your pets in distress can immediately contact emergency caregivers if you’re not available. Put notices in plain sight alerting emergency respondents to the presence of pets in the home. Give your neighbors contact details for emergency caregivers.
- Carry an ‘alert card’ in your wallet that lists the names and numbers of emergency caregivers.
The next step is to think about establishing a pet trust.
You’ll want to appoint someone you know can provide long-term care for your pet as the designated caregiver. You need a backup choice in case the primary person can’t care for them when the time comes. If you have no choice but to split multiple pets up, you need to specify which pets go where. Ideally, pets that have lived together should stay together.
You’ll also need to appoint a trustee. The trustee doesn’t necessarily have to be the same person who will take care for your pet. But they should control resources allocated for your pets’ care, and ensure caregivers perform their duties.
A pet trust should also include the following:
- Information that confirms it’s your pet. For example, photographs of your pet, microchips or DNA samples.
- Information regarding any dietary requirements or medical conditions. Include details of your pet’s lifestyle so the caregiver can maintain that standard of living.
Legislation regarding wills and trusts in relation to pet care varies from state to state. In some states there may be no laws at all pertaining to posthumous pet care. It’s a good idea hire a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, so your plans are watertight and entanglement-free.
It seems like a lot of effort, but once it’s done, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your pet’s future is safe. You’ll also be secure in the knowledge that you’ve carried out your responsibilities as pet guardians to the fullest extent.