Many owners give some consideration to what will happen to their pets after they die, but what about unexpected events? Hospitalization, long term illness or injury, or moving to a nursing home that doesn’t allow pets are situations that can come up quickly and unexpectedly. It is important to have advance arrangements in place for your pet’s care in the event that you are unable to provide for them.
Many owners assume their pets will be taken by a family member if they are no longer able to care for them. Sadly this is often not the case as many pets are taken to shelters by family members unwilling or unable to take them after the owner passes away. You can designate a caretaker by finding a friend or relative that is willing to be your pet’s guardian and have a written agreement in place to make sure the pet will be cared for appropriately. It is helpful to create specific instructions about your pet’s care such as dietary restrictions, medications, and daily exercise routine. Have contact information for the veterinarian, groomer, or pet sitter available and be sure to discuss any behavior issues they may have such as do they like children, or are they afraid of thunderstorms.
In a will you can specifically indicate whom your pet will go to and create provisions for your pet’s care.
You can not leave money outright to your pet, so you must be confident that the person you choose to leave money to will use it to care for your pet. Also a will can be contested and may take months or years to settle. Your pet could get neglected or lost in the shuffle. A will cannot provide for your pet in the event of your disability. In Maryland a pet trust can be established in which an owner can appoint a trustee to ensure the designated caregiver is doing their job appropriately and manage the funds left to care for the pet. An owner can leave very specific instructions on how their pets are to be cared for after their death and can be structured to provide for your pet if you have a lengthy disability. For more information on pet trusts go to ASPCA’s Pet Trust Primer at www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/pet-trust-primer.aspx.
If you are unable to find a caretaker willing to provide for your pet, look for a shelter, rescue, or charitable organization whose function is to care for or find homes for companion animals of deceased owners. These organizations may agree to accept the pet along with a cash bequest to cover expenses. They may agree to care for the pet for its lifetime, or find an adoptive home for the pet. Exploring these options ahead of time can make this transition smoother for the pet and relatives that are concerned the pet finds a good home, but are unable to take the pet themselves.