Human life expectancy is so much longer than that of our pets, and we often assume that we are going to outlive them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is extremely important that we plan and make arrangements for our pets in the event that we pass away before they do. Following the steps below can give you peace of mind knowing that your pets will adequately be taken care of after your death. Making arrangements for your pet’s care will also be extremely helpful to grieving family and friends dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Everyone should have a formal will that gives detailed instructions on who is to take care of your pets after your death. However, wills only go into affect after death, and the execution of a will can be delayed in probate court for a variety of reasons. Wills do not cover what is to happen to your pets if you are to become disabled or incapacitated temporarily or permanently prior to death. Therefore, it is important to have some sort of informal agreement with friends, family members, and/or neighbors in the event that you can not take care of your pets.
There are certain steps you should take to ensure that your pets receive immediate care if you become ill, incapacitated, or pass away. These steps can be taken to provide temporary care for your pets until long term care is decided.
1. Choose at least two adults that you trust to properly take care of your pets if something unexpected happens to you. Consult with the people you have chosen to make sure that they can and are willing to care for your pets. Maker sure you designated caregivers know every thing about your pets that is relevant to their care. Give them the name and contact information of your veterinarian, and let them know where you keep any medication and veterinary records. If your pet has a medical condition that requires daily medication, monitoring or therapy, make sure your caregivers understand the responsibility and commitment it requires to take care of your pet. Always stay in touch with your chosen caregivers. Circumstances can change over time and your caregivers may not always be in a position to care for your pets. If your pets’ needs change overtime, it is important to update your caregivers regarding these needs.
2. Make sure that your friends, family members, and neighbors know that you have pets. Unfortunately, there are times when someone suddenly passes away and no one realizes that there are pets in the home that need care. Let the people in your circle know who you have designated as your caregivers and give them the contact information.
3. Carry a card or note in your wallet that will alert first responders, law enforcement, and/or medical professionals that you have pets that need care. List the names and contact information for your caregivers.
4. Post ‘In Case of Emergency’ notices on your doors or windows specifying how many and what types of pets you have to alert first responders to the presence of pets in case of fire or other home emergency. Don’t use stickers; hard-to-remove stickers are often left behind by former residents, so firefighters may assume that the sticker is outdated or, worse, risk their lives trying to find a pet no longer in the house.
5. Place a removable notice near your front and back door listing the contact information for your designated caregivers. This note can also include the contact information for your veterinarian and where any medications or records are kept in the house.
Those are the steps everyone should take for the immediate and temporary care of your pet. There are also steps you should take to provide long term care for your pet. The best way to ensure long term care is to have a formal agreement in the form of a will, trust, or power of attorney. Each of these options are different in what they do and how they are executed. It’s important to consult an attorney to decide which is best for you and your pets.
As mentioned earlier, your wishes outlined in your will can only be executed upon your death. It can normally take a few days to a few weeks for this to happen. If anything in the will is contested, finalizing the instructions in your will could take even longer. If you include your pet in your will, make sure you have other documents that outline what is to happen with your pets temporarily until your will can be concluded.
A trust is something that can be set up in addition to a will and can provide for your pet immediately upon your death or if you become disabled or incapacitated. A trust can be beneficial in that you can set aside assets, such as money to care for your pet, that will not get wrapped up in probate and are more readily available. The downside to a trust is that the process of setting one up can be more expensive and complicated.
A power of attorney is another legal option you can take to ensure your pets are cared for if you become physically or mentally unable. A power of attorney designates a person to care for your pet and spend money on behalf of your pets’ care. It is simpler to arrange and does not form the complicated legal entity that a trust does.
When deciding which route to take, it is extremely important to consult an attorney to decide which option is best for you. An attorney will be able to explain in detail the pros and cons of each option and will know specific state laws and regulations regarding those options. Once you and/or your attorney have draw up all the documents you feel you need, make copies of those documents and give a copy to your designated caregivers.