Estate Planning with Dogs and Cats

Posted in:
This man, pictured here with his dog, has made a plan for pet care should he die before his animal

Our dogs, cats and other pets are so close to our hearts, it’s difficult to think about the day when they’ll no longer be with us. But what if something happens to us first, and we’re not around to take care of them? When preparing your will or trust, what is the best way to plan for your pets’ future after you’re gone, and what should you include in your will?

In the event that you pass away first, your animals will need immediate care and love. We’ve compiled some helpful tips for estate planning with pets in mind.

Arranging for caregivers for dogs, cats and other pets

You’ll want to choose both emergency and permanent caregivers for your pets. Here are some tips:

  • Ask a few trusted friends or family members to act as emergency caregivers. And you’ll want to arrange for more than one caregiver, just in case someone isn’t available. Give them feeding and care instructions for your pets, contact information for your veterinarian and a key to your house.
  • You’ll want to let the rest of your family, friends and loved ones know how many pets you have, and that contact information for your emergency caregivers is available. Keep this contact information in your wallet and somewhere in your home where it’s easy to find.
  • To ensure long-term care for your four-legged friends, you’ll need to name a permanent caregiver. Be sure to choose someone you know will be able to provide your pets with a good home, someone who can give your pets the kind of attention and care they’re used to.
  • If you don’t have someone in mind as a permanent caregiver, give detailed instructions to your emergency caregivers regarding how to find a new home for your pets. If you adopted a pet from an organization, be sure to check your adoption agreement for clauses requiring your pet to be returned to their care.
  • Talk about your wishes and the needs of your pets with your potential caregivers. If you have multiple pets, decide whether they should stay together or be placed with different caregivers. Keep in touch with your caregivers, so that you can make other arrangements if their circumstances change and they are no longer available to serve in that capacity.
  • When designating a permanent caregiver, you should include a backup option. Although it may seem like a good idea, avoid naming an organization as your permanent caregiver (unless otherwise stipulated in your adoption agreement). While some animal welfare organizations may have temporary space available, they generally can’t offer the kind of long-term care your animals will need. Your pets are your companions, and they’re used to living in your home. Think about placing them where they’d be the most comfortable.

Provisions for pets in a will or trust

You can help to ensure that everything goes smoothly by incorporating your wishes for emergency and long-term care for your animals in your will or trust. Making formal arrangements will bring you peace of mind and reassurance that your pets will be properly looked after. Remember, it’s important to set up emergency care as well as permanent care for your pets, since long-term arrangements can take some time to implement and your pets will need immediate attention in the event that something happens to you.

While preparing your estate planning trust, you’ll want to include authorization for the use of funds from your estate for your pets. This money can be used for their care and any other costs that may arise, such as the cost of transportation to their new home. Consider setting up a trustee, which can add an additional layer of oversight and care for your animals.

Planning provisions for your pets requires some important decision-making. If you have any questions, consult a legal expert who can assist you with deciding what to include in your will. That person can also help you figure out what kind of estate planning with your pets will be most effective. And don’t forget to leave copies of your will or trust with your executor and chosen caregivers.

Checklist to plan for your pets’ care in an emergency