Providing for Pets In the Event of Your Death or Severe Disability

It’s among every pet owner’s worst fears: You die, acquire a severe disability, or are hospitalized in a coma, and your pets are bounced around between family members until someone gives up and drops them off at the local shelter. What a nightmare! Unless you’re a millionaire, there’s no way to be sure your pets will be cared for in the event you can no longer do so, right?

Wrong. While it’s impossible ever to be really 100% certain of the outcome of a situation beyond your control, it’s possible to take some steps that don’t require independent wealth and which come as close as possible to ensuring your pets will be safe even if you’re unable to continue taking care of them.

Talk to Friends and Family

If you speak with friends and family ahead of time about the care of your pets in the event of your death, long-term hospitalization, or severe disability, you can identify individuals who would be willing to take on responsibility for your pets. It’s a difficult conversation to have.  Nobody wants to be reminded that a loved one could simply be gone tomorrow. However, it’s necessary to discuss these matters with the people closest to you, if you want to make sure your pets will not be harmed if you’re no longer able to care for them.

Try beginning with, “I know this is an unpleasant topic, but since you’re a person I trust and admire, I want to talk to you about my pets. Specifically, I’d like to ask if you’re comfortable with the responsibility of caring for them, should I die or become physically incapable of providing them with a loving home.”

Make sure your designated “pet godparent” knows it’s okay to decline the request and that you’d rather hear an answer in the negative now than have your pets end up with someone who’s not actually willing to keep them for life.

Put It In Writing

If you’ve found someone willing to take your pets if you become incapacitated, see an attorney together and add a clause to your Last Will and Testament leaving your pets to this individual. If possible, also leave a financial bequest of some sort, and talk to the attorney about tying this bequest to the care of your pets. In other words, have your attorney help you say, “I leave this person this amount of money, but only on  the condition that they provide for my pets for the rest of their natural lives,” in a way that is legally binding.

Have a  Backup Plan

If worst comes to worst, even the designated  “pet godparent” may be unable to care for your pets. That’s why you should  also leave a backup plan, in writing. The best option is a second designated caregiver, but if another willing person can’t be found, choose a local no-kill rescue that uses foster homes for the pets in their care. Stipulate in your will and/or living will that if and only if your pets absolutely cannot be taken by the designated  individual,  they may be surrendered only to the specified organization.

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4 Responses

  1. Melissa McDaniel
    | Reply

    Thanks so much for posting about this. I think many people either don’t think about this because they assume they will outlive their pets, or they assume their family will give them a good home. I have seen countless people who bring dogs in to the shelter because the dogs mom/dad either died or was admitted to the hospital. The guardianship of your pets should be in your will! Thanks again for posting this!

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