My husband and I did some “just in case” planning recently before an upcoming trip. We asked our trusted pet sitter and friend if she would be willing to care for our dog should anything happen to us. We made sure she realized it might be for just a short while but could also be long-term.
Fortunately for us, she said yes.
Each year millions of animals are placed in shelters due to the illness or death of their owners. Fewer than 20 percent of seniors who are pet owners have made legal or financial provisions for the care of their pet should something happen to them.
Adding to those facts, 52 percent of all the people over age 75 in the U.S. live alone. Many of them have dogs, cats or other pets sharing their lives.
If something happens to them, there is no spouse or partner to take over.
In the confusion that ensues after an illness, accident or death, the senior’s pet may get lost in the shuffle.
There are steps you can take to help assure that your pet will be treated as you want it to be should something happen to you.
First, select at least two people you would feel comfortable with caring for your pet. Their age and lifestyle might be points to consider. For example, a best friend who is many years older than you and who travels extensively may not be the optimal choice as a pet guardian.
Next, ask these folks if they would be willing to take over responsibility for your pet. Do not assume that your sister who loves your cat wants the responsibility. Caring for an animal requires a lot of work and attention.
Once you have two willing guardians, the first thing to do is register them with your veterinarian. In the case of an emergency, you want them to be able to make decisions for your pet, and the vet will need to know they have that permission from you. Some vets have specific forms; others will just note it in the pet’s file.
After making those arrangements, you will want to put in writing your pet’s plan of care. For example, list what your pet eats, what medications if any it takes, if it’s an outside pet, where it sleeps at night, etc. Providing as much detail as possible will help ensure your pet is treated the way you want.
Give your pet guardians a key to your home and consider inviting them for some home visits if the proposed guardian is unfamiliar with the pet’s routine.
Create a card to place in your wallet that notes you are a pet owner, the name of the animal(s), and the name and phone number of the guardians to contact in case of emergency.
Pet guardians can be formalized further with expressed wishes in a will or trust. The challenge with noting these wishes in a will is that a will takes effect only after you have died, and it may be subject to a waiting period. During that time the pet is in limbo. If you set up a trust in a specific way, it can take effect if you are incapacitated as well as upon your death.
Those reading this may remember Leona Helmsley, who left her Maltese dog a $12-million trust fund in her will. That amount was struck down by the courts as excessive.
However, leaving some funds to care for a pet is good to do if you can. A guardian’s job becomes a bit easier with funds to help support a pet’s care.
If a guardian has not been identified and the pet is taken to a shelter or breeder, the funds can be helpful for a new owner who wants to adopt your pet.
Pets are good medicine. Eighty percent of pet owners say they derive happiness and emotional support from their pets. Over half of pet owners say their pets provide them stress relief and reduced anxiety. Lower blood pressure and a greater amount of exercise are also benefits one-third of pet owners say they receive.
Our pets are good for us, so let’s make sure we, in turn, plan to be good to them.