Ever wondered what will happen to your pets once you are incapable of taking care of them? Of course it’s not a welcome thought. And if you're like most people, then you consider your pets as part of the family. We get it: doggie dads and cat moms are parents too. Unlike with actual children though, we often forget - or even ignore - what will happen to them once we’re gone.
If you pass away before them, what will become of your furry friends? Are you confident that your siblings or friends or neighbors can provide for them? Do they know the type of food they eat, the pills they take every morning, or how often they need to be groomed/cleaned? As you already know, there are a myriad of things that go into pet care, and depending on the type of pet you have, the responsibilities may not be easily transferable. The best way to ensure your pets future with or without you, is through creating a simple Pet Directive.
What is a Pet Directive?
A pet directive is a long-term care plan for pets of deceased owners. While alive, it also allows pet parents to better organize their pet's records and establish how they wish their faithful friends to be taken care of if they pass away unexpectedly. It includes their medical history, chosen pet guardian, lifestyle preferences, and more.
Having a Pet Directive in place when you pass away not only protects your companion but it also provides peace of mind and clarity for your surviving loved ones when it comes to making decisions. One less thing to think about during those stressful times can make a huge difference.
What should I consider when creating a Pet Directive?
Who should be the caretakers?
You essentially have two different options when it comes to the next caretakers of your pets. You can leave them to your family or friends or you can name an organization of your choice. When choosing a person, consider the following:
- Living circumstances: Depending on the pet, you should consider the space and shelter of the guardian. Do they have enough living space/the right accommodations to provide comfortable shelter? Are they OK with restricting their current space to provide for your pet?
- Allergies: Does your guardian or their close relative have allergies with your pet? Make sure to clarify that information before you assign someone as their guardian.
- Time and Effort: If your pet needs a lot of time and effort, like a dog, are they able to fully provide for your pet? Even if they are, are they willing to take time out of their day(s) to do so?
- Financial Situation: Supporting a pet is more costly than a lot of people think. Especially if an animal has a higher life expectancy, it will cost the guardian more in the long run. You can leave some of your estate and assets to the guardian for support based on your experience and past monthly or yearly spending. Whatever you leave behind, make sure they are able and willing to spend that on your pet. 2.
If my caretakers can’t take care of my pet, what happens next?
This step is important in case something happens to your designated guardian, or they are not willing to take in your pet. Think about adding a second person as a guardian, or naming an organization of your choice to surrender your pet to. Maybe it’s even the vet or another family member.
Which shelters / organizations should I consider as options?
If you do not have a willing and able person to take care of your pet, then there are several organizations and charities that you can consider.
2nd Chance 4 Pets: This organization does not have any shelters, but they specialize on pets being left with no arrangements. They have a newsletter and samples of instruction letters to download for free.
Animal Friends: Animal friends is a shelter with various locations around the US. You can reach out to them or apply for admissions on their website.
Pet Peace of Mind: This nonprofit organization supports pet parents when they are unable to do so alive, as well as after they pass away. One of their promises is to find a new, loving home for every pet.
Best Friends Animal Society: This organization has shelters all across the country. They take care of pets left behind and make sure that they are adopted by capable people.
What are some special considerations for my pet(s)? (e.g. allergies, dietary restrictions, health concerns, etc.)
Only you know the needs of your pet, and who can truly fulfill them. Be sure to take account of all the essential things that need to be done when taking care of your pet, and include these in the instructions to your guardian. It’s also good to be realistic about what your choice guardian can and will do. You might really want your brother, Alex, to take care of your dog but will he truly make sure to give him his pills 3 times a day? Responsibility is key.
Are there any preexisting engagements that my pet’s caregiver should know about? (e.g. insurance, monthly/yearly vet visits, memberships, etc.)
Any memberships or accounts connected to your pet should also be included in your pet directive as this will help your guardian make quick decisions when it comes to caring for your companion. This will also help your family easily track down accounts and memberships you may not need anymore.
What happens if I don’t have a Pet Directive/End of Life plan for my pet?
If you don't have a pet directive or trust set up, your next of kin or someone appointed by a court can determine what happens to your pets. It is best to not assume anyone will take custody of your pet after death, as only about a quarter of pets are taken in by relatives or friends. Taking care of an animal is a big responsibility, even if it may not feel like it to you. Without instructions, your companion animal could end up at a shelter or, worse, abandoned.
About the Author:
Hi my name is Ash and I’m a pet lover, former pet owner and I currently work in the digital end of life industry. Last year, my family lost our dog, Symen, due to old age and were, for the first time, faced with grief over a pet. A couple months later, my sister decided to get a dog and was able to take in a puppy that was left to a shelter after the owner passed away.
This experience, learning first hand about the consequences of not having a legacy plan in place for pets, is what led me to write this article. After reading, I hope you’ll consider creating a Pet Directive for your companion and even starting your own end of life plan. Both mine and my family’s end of life planning is done through GoodTrust, a secure digital legacy platform.