What If Your Pet Doesn’t Have A Home After You’re Gone? Make a Plan
We know your pets are part of the family, which is why it’s important to make plans for pet care after death of owner.
Although it’s tough to think about it, having arrangements in place will give you the peace of mind you need to ensure that your pet has the same type of loving care it has now.
There are both formal and informal arrangements you can make, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Legally naming a pet power of attorney is one way to provide for your pets after you die. But there are others and we lay them out for you here, including what you can legally do to protect your pet.
Can I Leave Money to Spot?
The short answer is no, you can’t directly leave money to your pet. The good news is that you can create a few arrangements so that your pet will be taken care of after you pass. All of these options include choosing a caregiver and leaving money with this person (or organization) in a will or trust for the purposes of caring for your pet.
The two main ways to arrange pet care after death of the owner are getting a verbal or a written arrangement. First, let’s take a look at how you can choose a pet caregiver.
Choosing a Pet Caregiver
This step may be the hardest part because it can be emotional thinking about what will happen to your pet after you die. Plus, it can be a hard decision because you want to make sure you fully trust whoever will care for your pet. But you’ve got pet insurance in case the fur babies get sick, now you need to take that planning a step further.
If you have more than one pet, you can choose for all of them to go to one person or divided among different people. Choosing more than one person is a great option if you know that one person can’t or is unwilling to take care of multiple pets.
You can name whoever you want — your aunt, best friend, co-worker or other family members. It’s a good idea to choose someone who has already interacted with your pet, is a known animal lover or has cared for pets. Even if you have one person in mind pick a few backups just in case. And make sure they have agreed to the arrangement.
Again, choose carefully because this person you name will have full responsibility for your pet’s care, including making major medical decisions in addition to the day-to-day stuff. You not only want to trust this person, but you want it to be someone you know will do what’s best for your pet.
Something else to consider is to find a temporary caregiver in case the people you officially designate aren’t available at the time of your death. For instance, your aunt happens to be on a business trip for a week, but since you named your brother as a temporary caregiver in advance, Spot will be taken care of until she returns.
What if I Can’t Find a Suitable Caregiver?
It can be hard to find someone who wants to be responsible for taking care of a pet after the death of the owner. Sure, there are many organizations like the Humane Society that will take your pet. The harrowing truth is that these places may not have space to hold your pet, nor will they guarantee someone will adopt them. If you go this route, you will probably want to search out a no-skill shelter.
In response, there are organizations throughout the U.S. that ensure pet owners have a place to leave their pets when they can’t care for them anymore. Keep in mind that these places will ask for a donation — think of it 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 to do your research to ensure that you’re going with a reputable organization and you know exactly how much to donate. Plus, you’ll need to designate someone to care for your pet temporarily until it can be taken to the organization.
Should I Make Formal or Informal Arrangements?
The main difference between a formal and informal arrangement is that the latter is done verbally, whereas the former has an official written agreement. As in, a formal arrangement will include some form of estate planning document (we’ll get to this later).
The main benefit of creating a written agreement is that you will be able to specify who will take care of your pet, including directions on how to financially care for them. You may have to pay an attorney to draft a document, or there are many free online templates available.
Informal arrangements are fine if you trust the potential caretaker and have outlined your wishes clearly. This could mean keeping in touch regularly with this person and making sure they still agree to taking care of your pet.
The downside is that the financial arrangements can get murky. You can leave money to your caretaker in your will, but you can’t be absolutely sure this person will use it to care for your pet. That being said, neither option is better than the other. Make sure you’re aware of what you need to do for whichever choice you make to ensure your wishes are carried out.
Choosing the Right Type of Legal Document
If you decide to create estate planning documents outlining your wishes, one of the easiest ways to do so is to create a will or a pet trust. In the will, you will name someone as the pet owner after you die and leave money to them. That way, this person will receive the money intended for your pet’s care and will be the legal owner.
However, a will can’t specify how the money will be used. As in, the caregiver can use the money however they wish (though it shouldn’t be a huge problem if you trust them). You can create another document that outlines your wishes, though again, the caregiver is under no obligation to follow them. These instructions can include how much should go toward certain costs, or how to temporarily care for your pet if it will take time to transport them to their new home.
Disputes to your will could take weeks or longer to be resolved. In the meantime, your pet may not be with the rightful caretaker nor could there be funds to take care of 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’ll name this person in the trust and provide instructions on how to care for your pet, and leave money for that very purpose. This document is set up alongside your will.
Once you pass away or become incapacitated, the pet caregiver will be named a trustee and has to follow your instructions in the pet trust. Whatever is stipulated in this document will be enacted immediately, since your assets won’t go through probate or your wishes up for discussion.
Whichever type of document or arrangement you make, it’s a good idea to consult a legal professional such as an estate attorney. That way, you can make an informed decision based on what’s best for your beloved pet.
Contributor Sarah Li-Cain is a personal finance writer based in Jacksonville, Florida, specializing in real estate, insurance, banking, loans and credit. She is the host of the Buzzsprout and Beyond the Dollar podcasts.