What Happens to My Pets When I Die?

What happens to your pets is up to you. Most people write a will so they can be assured all their wishes will be followed after they have passed away.

Many people also create documents to guide others in their care when they have reached their point of no return. This may be called end-of-life care, hospice care, or advance care planning, but it’s all about the final days and how you wish or need to spend them.

These documents may include “powers of attorney” and “advance directives,” to be followed when an individual is no longer able to articulate their needs and wishes. These documents may provide comfort, knowing that people around them, usually family, will know what to do and how to honor their wishes.

Often, those wishes involve a family or personal pet, such as a dog or a cat, although other species may be part of their animal family, too. People also may be very bonded with birds, horses, rabbits, or other animals, and they need to know they will be cared for.

Unfortunately, and too often, these arrangements are not considered and are left for remaining family members to figure out. Sadly, that often leads to an unhappy ending for the animals. Assurances from others to “not worry, we’ll take care of Fluffy,” frequently turn out to be empty promises and Fluffy ends up being euthanized or simply released into the neighborhood to fend for herself.

Therefore, it only makes sense to spell things out while you still can, if you don’t want your beloved pet(s) to be disposed of and not cared for as requested and promised.

Just as your wishes most likely would not be honored if you do not have a will, neither will your pets be handled as you had hoped if they are not included in a will.

Therefore, here are 5 tips to help you make best case scenario arrangements for your furry loved ones:

1. Be sure you have a will, and that all pets are included in your instructions. This makes it a legal obligation to care for them and you can be better assured they will be. List their names and descriptions, such as, “Fluffy, female Siamese cat, born in 1989, veterinary records attached.” Then be sure all veterinary care is up to date and documented. If it can be shown her “shots” are current, for example, it is much easier to convince others, such as a pet care facility, to take her.

2. Aside from your will, create a list of everyone who may be currently involved in her care, such as the veterinary office that has her records, any boarding facilities you have used, groomers, and where you acquired her to begin with. These connections very well may be the people who can help find her a new home when you are no longer able to keep her.

3. Assemble a list of friends, family, shelters, humane societies and animal care facilities that you trust and know to provide quality care for all the animals they have. This list may be invaluable if the previous list is exhausted when you or a family member inquires and they are unable to take your pet off the family’s hands. Not only that, but it can happen that some resources will no longer exist: for example, when a veterinarian retires and either closes the office or sells it to a new doctor who does not wish to take your pet. A very good idea is to contact people you know, well ahead of time, to be sure they are aware of your wishes and are willing to help.

4. If you do not want Fluffy to end up at a certain relative’s house, perhaps where a troop of toddlers may be waiting to play roughly with her, or their large breed dog happens to dislike cats, then you need to specify situations you do not want to occur. List people who may NOT take the cat, for example, if disturbing possibilities exist. This information can and should be included in your will.

5. Another way to help pave the path into a good shelter or foster home is to allot a certain monetary amount to cover Fluffy’s living expenses for a specified length of time. Be sure the money will be used for Fluffy and not for someone’s personal wish list. You can set up a “trust fund” of sorts, by pre-paying someone you know who will sign a pledge, perhaps even a contract, to assure the pet is cared for as directed. This information, especially any financial allocations, should be included in your will.

One thing is almost certain: If you do not make preliminary or even final arrangements for your pets, your family will be saddled with the task at a time when they are upset, confused, distraught, and not thinking about dogs, cats, or caring what happens to them, and may just toss them outside or run down to the vet’s office and end their lives immediately.

Right now is your best time to think about and make decisions for your pets’ future. And remember: Whatever you decide, someone needs to take action immediately, on the day that you can no longer care for them. Fluffy cannot sit quietly in a back room for several days or weeks until everyone is ready to finally think about the cat. She needs to be fed and tended to daily, or removed to an arranged location immediately.

[Please note: This is not to be construed as legal advice. Please consult with a legal professional.]

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