Arrangements for the care of pets after the owner’s death

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    We know your pets are part of the family. This is why it is important to make plans for caring for pets after the owner dies.

    While it is difficult to think about, you can rest assured of taking precautions to ensure your pet receives the same kind of loving care that it has now.

    You can make both formal and informal agreements, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Legal naming a power of attorney for pets is one way to take care of your pets after you die. But there are others and we put them here for you, including what you can legally do to keep your pet safe.

    Can I leave money on site?

    The short answer is no, you can’t give money to your pet directly. The good news is that you can take some precautions to ensure that your pet is cared for after you die. All of these options include choosing a caregiver and leaving money with that person (or organization) in a will or foundation to care for your pet.

    The two main ways to arrange pet care after the owner’s death is through oral or written agreement. First, let’s look at how to choose a zookeeper.

    Choosing a zookeeper

    This step can be the hardest part as it can be emotional to think about what will happen to your pet after you die. Plus, it can be a tough decision to make because you want to make sure you trust whoever takes care of your pet. But you do have pet insurance in case the fur babies get sick. Now you need to take that planning one step further.

    If you have more than one pet, you can choose to have them all go to one person or split up between different people. Choosing more than one person is a great option when you know that one person may not be able or unwilling to look after multiple pets.

    You can name who you want – your aunt, best friend, coworker, or other family member. It’s a good idea to choose someone who has already interacted with your pet, is a known animal lover, or has taken care of pets. Even if you have someone in mind, pick out a few backups just in case. And make sure they agreed to the agreement.

    Again, choose carefully as that person you designate will have full responsibility for taking care of your pet, including making important medical decisions in addition to everyday things. Not only do you want to trust this person, but someone you know is doing what is best for your pet.

    You should also seek out a temporary caregiver in case the people you officially designate are not available at the time of your death. For example, your aunt is on a business trip for a week, but since you have designated your brother as a temporary carer in advance, Spot will be looked after until she returns.

    What if I can’t find a suitable nurse?

    It can be difficult to find someone to be responsible for looking after a pet after the owner dies. Sure, there are many organizations like the Humane Society that will take in your pet. The terrifying truth is, these places may not have a place for your pet, nor do they guarantee that someone will adopt them. If you go down this route, you will likely want to find shelter.

    In response, there are organizations in the US that are making sure pet owners have a place to leave their pets when they can no longer look after them. Remember, these places are asking for a donation – think of that as money to be used for your pet. Some of these organizations include the Perpetual Pet Care Program, Pet Peace of Mind, and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.

    Make sure you do your research to make sure you are working with a reputable organization and know exactly how much to donate. You will also need to designate someone to temporarily care for your pet until it can be brought to the organization.

    A dog is seated at a table for a formal dinner in this photo illustration.
    Getty Images

    Should I make formal or informal arrangements?

    The main difference between a formal and an informal agreement is that the latter is oral, while the former has an official written agreement. As in Figure 4, a formal agreement will contain some sort of estate planning document (we’ll come back to this later).

    The main benefit of creating a written agreement is that you can specify who will look after your pet, including financial care instructions. You may have to pay an attorney to create a document or there are many free templates available online.

    Informal arrangements are fine if you trust the potential caretaker and have clearly outlined your needs. This can mean keeping in touch with that person on a regular basis and making sure that they continue to agree to care for your pet.

    The downside is that financial arrangements can get cloudy. You can leave money in your will to your caretaker, but you cannot be absolutely certain that this person will use it to care for your pet. That being said, no option is better than the other. Make sure you know what to do about the decision you have made to ensure that your wishes are met.

    Choosing the right type of legal document

    If you want to create estate planning documents that list your needs, the easiest way to do this is to create a will or pet foundation. In the will you will name someone as a pet owner after your death and give them money. In this way, that person will receive the money that is intended for your pet’s care and will be the rightful owner.

    However, a will cannot state how the money will be used. As in, the caregiver can use the money as they wish (although it shouldn’t be a big problem if you trust them). You can create another document outlining your needs. Here, too, the caregiver is not obliged to follow them. These instructions may include how much to spend on certain expenses or how to temporarily care for your pet if transportation to their new home takes some time.

    It may take weeks or more for disputes to be resolved at your will. In the meantime, your pet may not be with the lawful caretaker, and there may not be funds to look after them.

    Consider a pet trust

    Another estate planning document, a pet trust, is a more specific tool that formally outlines the caregiver’s legal obligations to your pet. You will name this person in the trust and give instructions on how to care for your pet and leave money for that purpose. This document will be drawn up alongside your will.

    Once you die or become unable to work, the zookeeper will be appointed trustee and must follow your instructions at the animal foundation. Whatever is stipulated in this document will take effect immediately as your assets are not put to the test or your wishes are up for discussion.

    Regardless of what type of document or agreement you enter into, it is a good idea to consult an attorney such as a real estate attorney. That way, you can make an informed decision based on what is best for your beloved pet.

    Staff Sarah Li-Cain is a Jacksonville, Florida-based personal finance writer specializing in real estate, insurance, banking, credit, and credit. She is the host of the podcasts Buzzsprout and Beyond the Dollar.


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