What will happen to your dog, cat, or other beloved animal companions after you’re gone? You’d be surprised how many loving pet owners simply don’t think of it—or rely on verbal agreements that don’t wind up working out after the fact. The truth is that you can’t rely on everything to work out on its own when it comes to providing for a pet—you’ll have to lay out a plan in your will, as you would for a dependent child. Here are a few tips for ensuring your pet has a safe and stable home after you’re gone.
Talk to your family early on—and know who you can rely on
Have a conversation with your family members and choose someone to look after your pets well before the fact. Choose someone to be the fall-back care provider if you ever require hospitalization or become incapacitated. Identify a backup caregiver if the first choice can’t provide the care you need—and make sure they have each other’s contact information and know what to do in an emergency. If possible, offer to play the same role for their pets if the same should happen to them.
Don’t rely on a verbal agreement to provide for your pet. It’s possible that the person you choose could no longer afford to care for the pet or could leave it with a family member you didn’t intend to care for the pet.
You should always carry on you basic information about your pets as well as your own ID. Include the names and ages of your pets, the vet’s number and after-hours emergency number, and the names and contact information for your emergency caregivers. If your pets have any medical conditions, be sure to list any details about their medications and write down how the care must be administered—be sure your backup caregivers have this information too.
Name a new owner in your will
It’s essential to spell out who will care for your pet after you die specifically in the will—don’t rely on a verbal agreement. If you don’t, the pet will go to the residuary beneficiary automatically—this is the person who inherits everything not specifically named in the will. If you don’t have a will, the pet will probably go to your next of kin—this varies according to state law, however.
The person you name in your will may be your emergency caregiver or someone else. Talk to this person beforehand and make sure they agree to serve this function, and if possible, choose an alternate as well. Include the name of the new owner and the secondary alternate in your will or trust.
Leave money for the pet’s care
Some people make the mistake of leaving money specifically to their pets in an effort to provide for them. However, in most cases, pets are seen as property by the law—and you can’t leave money to a piece of property. Instead, set up a pet trust for your pet that covers medical requirements, supplies, food, and other costs. You can pay into this fund monthly before your pet will need it, or set aside money for it in your will.
Establish a trustee for the pet trust
It’s best to choose someone different to serve as trustee of your pet trust than the person chosen to care for the pet. This ensures a system of checks and balances are in place that makes abuse of the fund more unlikely.
Don’t rely on a verbal agreement to provide for your pet. It’s possible that the person you choose could no longer afford to care for the pet or could leave it with a family member you didn’t intend to care for the pet—or even take it to a shelter. Instead, have a talk with family members beforehand to identify someone who can and will commit to caring for your pet, and ensure they have the financial support they need by establishing a pet trust. If you do, your pet is much more likely to have a safe, continuous, and loving home even after you die.