Saying goodbye is hard. If you are a pet owner, it doesn’t get easier no matter how many times it happens.
But what if you die before your cat or dog? Or what if you become disabled? Even if you’re in good health today, an accident could lay you up for months, making you unable to take care of your pets.
Many people assume that “someone” will step in and take care of their pets. Perhaps they think of a neighbor who always has a treat for their dog, or a sibling who adores their cat.
Unfortunately, there is a chance that you are misreading their signals. Not everyone who is friendly to your pets will be comfortable with accepting the day-to-day responsibility of caring for them. Pet ownership is a commitment of time, energy, patience, and money. When someone is thrown into that role suddenly (or perhaps they feel awkward about saying “No” when they are clearly your last resort), these chores and expenses could quickly get overwhelming.
Two common mistakes to avoid
The first mistake is waiting too long. Last-minute arrangements can fall apart. When they do, pets end up in overcrowded animal shelters. Some get adopted into good homes. Others are not so lucky. Having a plan for your pets can help them transition into another loving home and avoid the shelter (or, worse, euthanasia).
Another common mistake is leaving money directly to your pet. You cannot do that. You can, however, leave money to a person who will care for your pet. If that’s the path you want to pursue, you need to identify a specific future caregiver to name in your Will.
Once you have found that person, you need to have a conversation with him or her.
4 tips for a smooth financial transition to a new owner
When you talk to a friend or a family member about taking in your pets, be specific and honest. How many pets would they be taking in? Do those pets have any special medical needs? Any temperament or behavior challenges that someone needs to know about?
Approach “the talk” with an open mind. Neighbor Bob might adore your Goldendoodle — but don’t jump to conclusions. Make it OK for him to say “No”. Your goal is to find the right person, not get to a quick “Yes”.
As the conversation unfolds, you might add that you plan to leave money in your Will to help Bob pay for the dog’s food and vet bills.
Once you have verbal agreement from someone who is comfortable and willing to take in your pets, your next step is to ask an attorney to update your Will. The revised document should mention the funds you will be leaving for your pet’s future owners.
This arrangement can work well — but only if you trust the individual you are naming as the recipient of the money. After the money is distributed, your pet’s new caregiver can theoretically spend it however they wish.
Don’t feel comfortable with the idea that you pet’s “inheritance” might be spent on a trip to Hawaii? Consider setting up a trust. It’s more expensive, but in exchange you get to designate your pet’s new owner and appoint a guardian. The guardian could then sue the new owner if your wishes aren’t followed. Keep in mind that trust terms can be complicated — so this is not a DIY project!
Don’t know anyone who will take in your pets? Here are some ideas.
Maybe your dog is tough to place due to size or temperament. Perhaps someone in a possible future home is allergic to cats, or maybe they have a pet who won’t tolerate other animals.
If you can’t find anyone in your circle who would take in your pets, talk to local animal rescue groups. Some might agree to take care of your pet for life in exchange for a donation. Others may offer to board your pets privately until they can be placed into a permanent home. Keep in mind that there are breed-specific rescues that can help with placement, too.
Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at Texas A&M is another fantastic resource to remember. It’s run by students and can provide life-long care for your pet.
Regardless of what you choose, make sure that you firm up these arrangements before you need them. Many pet owners assume that a donation to a rescue organization automatically qualifies their pet for lifetime care. That is not the case!
The bottom line is, when it comes to your pets, don’t leave placement to chance. Talk to the people you know and to local animal rescues. That way, you can make sure your pets will be in good hands.