This week, the pet community is reeling from the tragic and sudden death of two heroes, animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin and Cat Writers Association president Dr. Lorie Huston. Dr. Yin left behind her beloved dog Jonesy, while my friend Lorie is survived by 6 special needs rescue cats. CWA members are networking to re-home Lorie’s cats.
Neither expected to have their pets outlive them. Do you have plans for your special pets?
What to Do If Your Pet Outlives You
In the past, elderly readers have contacted me to ask about setting up care options for pets should they die before them. Although healthy and with every intention to stick around for the foreseeable future, people should prepare for the unexpected. But as we’ve seen, even younger people can have the worst happen.
Sadly, orphaned pets often end up in shelters. They get destroyed by the surviving family members, when nobody feels able or willing to care for the left-behind fur-kid. The adult pet hasn’t a clue why she’s suddenly gone from a loving home and lap to a scary metal cage.
How to Prepare For Pets After Your Death
What can caring owners do to prepare for the worst, if death, disability or age takes away a pet’s home? Will family and friends rally to find loving homes for all the orphaned animals?
Your family and friends, veterinarian contacts and church relationships may be eager and willing to offer a place for your pet should you die before them. Maybe you have brother-dogs that would pine away if separated, or special needs cats that require extra medical care. Often, a simple promise among friends will be sufficient. Ideally, the animals already know and get along with the new owner—because missing you will be as tough for them as for your human family.
In today’s changing world, though, good intentions and a promise made years before may go out the window should the person’s own situation change. For instance, maybe your friend has other pets that won’t accept your animals, or living arrangements/finances have changed. For peace of mind, it’s best to make formal arrangements in your will and try to address every eventuality.
Legal Considerations if Pets Outlive You
Legal restrictions won’t allow a beloved pet to inherit from your estate because critters are themselves defined as property. But you certainly can set up trusts for the care of the pet, and name a specific person who will receive those funds so that they can take the critter into their care for the rest of its life. Once you find persons willing to take your pet, consult with an attorney about the proper paperwork necessary to make a legal and binding arrangement.
There also are “pet retirement homes” or “sanctuaries” that might be able to take your pets. Organizations that give pets a home for life, though, have limited openings. A fee pays for the care, that you set up in your will or other legal document.
Also ensure your neighbors know how many pets you have and how to contact emergency care givers. Carry a wallet “alert card” with this information and post “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows. The pamphlet includes sample legal language for wills and suggestions how to choose a permanent care giver for your animals in case of your death.
More Resources for Preparing for Your Pets’ Care
David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander wrote the book, “When Your Pet Outlives You” which contains sample legal forms, names of pet law specialists, addresses of pet retirement homes and sanctuaries throughout the U.S., a report on all relevant state statutes, important court decisions affecting people and their pets, and precise details on how to set up a pet trust.
The Humane Society of the United States offers a free brochure called Providing For Your Pet’s Future Without You. It suggests you find at least two responsible friends or relatives and provide them with emergency information for short-term care.
Once these emergency issues are in place, you’ll have peace of mind. That allows you to relax and enjoy making the most of the time you have with your special animal companions.
May you have many more loving years with your special companions. Meanwhile, I’m making my own emergency arrangements — just in case — for my Shadow-Pup and Karma-Kat, while my heart breaks for Lorie and her furry wonders left behind.
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