With pet-related spending reaching nearly $70 billion a year, it’s no secret that many people consider their fur babies to be family these days. But while we’re quick to pamper Fido and Fluffy with gourmet food and their own Instagram accounts (hey @itsdougthepug!), many fail to consider a very important question: What would happen to your pets if something were to happen to you?
If You Don’t Have a Plan
In most states, pets are considered personal property (ouch!). Unless you make specific provisions for their care, they will be at the mercy of friends, relatives, or even any emergency personnel that enter your home. And all too often, beloved pets end up in animal shelters at risk for euthanasia after their owners die or become incapacitated. It’s a sad thought, but the Humane Society estimates that shelters receive between 100,000 and 500,000 pets annually due to owner death or incapacity.
5 Ways You Can Prepare
It’s not all bad news! There are a lot of things you can do to ensure that your pets are cared for when you’re no longer around.
1) Let others know about your animals.
First things first: In order for your pets to receive care, you’ve got to let people know that you have them. Let close friends and family know that there are pets at home, and post “in case of emergency” notices in your doors or windows (or even on a card in your purse/wallet) to alert any first responders. Be sure to include emergency contact names and phone numbers for those who have agreed to step in and provide temporary care.
2) Arrange for temporary care.
Make arrangements with friends or relatives to act as temporary caregivers in the immediate aftermath following a death or serious illness/accident. Make sure that they know basic care instructions for your pets (including their relevant medical history and veterinary records), along with any information about more permanent care provisions you may have left in your will or other estate planning documents.
3) Include them in your estate plan.
To ensure your pets are cared for in the long term, make formal provisions in your estate plan to provide for their care. This can include naming pet guardians and leaving care provisions in your will or living trust, as well as earmarking specific funds to cover the cost of their care (note: you can’t leave money directly to your pets, since they’re technically property, but you can set up a pet trust). Be sure to discuss these arrangements with the caregivers that you’ve selected, and to name alternates in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling.
If you’ve created a power of attorney document, you can include instructions authorizing care for your pets and providing the funds to do so. You may also grant your agent the power to select a long-term caregiver for your pets.
4) Make a pet protection agreement.
For those who don’t want to include pets in their estate plan, you may opt for a more straightforward “pet protection agreement.” A pet protection agreement is essentially what it sounds like: a contract that you make with the person you’re asking to be your pets’ caregiver, in which you leave instructions and money for their care. Both parties have to agree to and sign the contract in order for it to be legally valid. Check out these tips on how to draft yours.
5) Find a lifetime care program for pets.
But what if there’s no one willing to take on your pets and you can’t afford to provide for the cost of their care? If that’s the case, you can still plan ahead by making arrangements with private animal rescues or nonprofits to step in and help re-home them when the time comes. In contrast to state-run animal shelters, many private organizations are no-kill and have strict guidelines in place to ensure your pets go to a good home. If you select this route, let your friends/family know about your plan and who to contact at those organizations.
Here are a few of these programs:
- Pet Peace of Mind
also contains a list of state specific resources
- The Pet Survivor Program at Hopalong Rescue
- 2nd Chance 4 Pets
- Paws Lifetime Care Program
So give Bubba and Peaches some extra scratchies tonight to let them know that they’ll be well taken care of – after all, they’re the best at taking care of us! And if you’re ready to get started with your estate plan, iPhone users can check us out in the app store.
Alicia is a fearless legal warrior who proudly notes that – during her very first oral argument in court – she defeated a team of opposing counsel who had a combined total of > 100 years of litigation experience (take that patriarchy!). Before joining Qwill as Director of Ops and Legal, Alicia spent five years representing consumers in cases involving privacy rights, false advertising, and consumer fraud. She’s passionate about meditation, self-actualization, and improving the world.