For many people, the family pet represents an incredible relationship that sometimes means just as much to us (or more) than many of our human relationships. I have had the pleasure of having dogs as best friends for most of my life and for that I am truly grateful. Our pets, no matter what species or breed become part of life and it is always very difficult so say goodbye. They don’t live nearly long enough.
But what if your pet has to say goodbye to you? What happens in the event, that you are no longer able to care for your fury best friend, or if you are no longer here?
In either case, we owe it to them to have a plan in place to take care of them and there are a few things we can do now, while we still have a say over the outcome. We know them better than anyone after all, so why not take some time to think about what we would like to happen for our pets if we are no longer here to take care of them, or we reach a point that we no longer can.
In my own case, I had to help lay my best friend Moses to rest a few years ago after he asked me to intervene on his behalf for the sake pain and dignity. It sucks that they don’t live longer lives, but the joy that they bring us throughout their lives makes up for the pain at the end, and all dogs go to Heaven.
I now have a new best buddy named Ichabod and he fills my days with adventure and mischief and always let’s me know what he is thinking in his own way. Sometimes he gently puts a paw on my lap (as he is now while I type this article) and sometimes he lets me know he disagrees with something by gently eating my couch and then my coffee table.
It only makes sense that when I think about my own estate plan, that I should consider who will take care of him if something happens to me. I know what he likes and what he hates, so it would really help his new family figure out how to ease him into what may surely be a difficult time for all involved.
There are a few things you can easily include in either your own estate plan organizer (see my article on this site here) to get started and they begin with the important stuff.
The Vital Information
What kind of pet or pets do you have: Dog, cat, horse, bird, fish, or ??? It is good to include any breed info you have it.
- Veterinarian Contact Info
- Health & Diet Needs and Requirements
- Favorite Activities/Toys/Treats
- Pet Insurance Info (If applicable)
- Pet Guardian Info directions
- Other Pertinent Info e.g: microchip, allergies, etc…
Doing your homework now so you can have it readily available can really help with the big changes your pet will be going through, not to mention for the humans involved.
I know that in my case, Ichabod’s world kind of revolves around mine. He might (???) find the transition of not having me around anymore a difficult one, so it is vital to me that I have all the important information about him ready to go, not only to make things easier for his guardians but especially for him.
It is also important that I keep the info up to date and check-in at least once a year, or when something changes for him, especially in his health. That can all be stored in your Estate Organizer or at the very least in a file where someone can find it.
The American Pet Products Association tells us that in the US, only 9 percent (9%) of people with a will in place have included provisions for their pet or pets. I believe that the numbers here in Canada might be similar and that is a terrifying statistic for our best friends if something happens to us.
Where does the money come from?
If you have a pet you know that there are costs associated with caring for them and it is important to make sure that something is set aside for caring for them when you are no longer here or able to care for them. This need not be a fancy trust maneuver (although I have seen some very complex settlements), but it is important to understand that whatever your best friend is costing you today will likely be a good benchmark to begin with.
Here is an idea of what a budget list might look like:
- Food (including treats)
- Veterinary bills (including any prescriptions and shots coming due)
- Travel costs (if your pet will need to change cities – or countries – to arrive with his or her new guardian family)
Fill in the amounts that you are used to setting aside yourself for these costs.
It is also a good idea to remember that just as is the case for us humans, when pets age, their care bills may become more expensive and it is a good idea to consider this when putting pet care estate plan together.
2 Sets of Guardians?
It also might be a good idea to think about the two different scenarios that would trigger this plan. If you are no longer able to care for your pet but still would like to spend time with him or her, then it might mean that there are one set of instructions and possibly even a different guardian family to care for them, and a second set of instructions to care for your pet in the event that you are no longer here.
You probably already do have plans in place for temporary absences right now, if you travel for example or if you need to be away for surgery or any other emergency. That is a good place to start, but it may not mean that it would be the permanent solution your pet may need some day.
Make sure you let them know
It is always a good idea to discuss your plans with the people who are involved in them and this is no different. Caring for a pet (or pets) is a huge responsibility (as you know) and it would not be fair to assume that someone is willing to take that job on full time just because they enjoy playing with your pet during the holidays. Make sure to ask.
Wills and Powers of Attorney
Once you have identified who you would like to take care of your pet when you are no longer here, and they have agreed to the responsibility, it is time to include it in your will. You already know from reading this blog (or my book) that updating your will is incredibly important and having your pet cared for is also very important. That means adding your instructions not only to your estate organizer, but to your will as well.
Contact your lawyer (or notary in Quebec) and make sure your instructions, and funding arrangements are included.
You will also want to include a provision in your powers of attorney to make sure your instructions are followed for your pet while you are still here but, are no longer able to care for your pet.
I did mention seeing a few large pet trusts earlier in this article and depending on the size of your estate (and how much you are leaving to your pet or pets) there may be some value in establishing a trust.
A trust becomes a legal entity that is managed based on your instructions and is legally required to follow those instructions only.
For larger estates that may take weeks or months to be probated and settled (longer if the estate is challenged), your pet could remain in limbo. A trust would be a tidy solution and would kick-in as soon as you are no longer here and your pet will not have to wait for the court to decide when they can join their new family.
Since you can’t leave money directly to your pets, a trust is a great way to make sure that your pet is cared for with the money you leave behind based on your instructions. But they are not for everyone.
If you’re already setting up an estate plan for yourself, which you should be, it will be easy for most lawyers and notaries to include your pet into the final paperwork.
Warm and Fuzzy
Now that you have thought about who will take care of your best friend, thought about how much it will cost and you have done all the paperwork, it is time to make it personal.
Those of you who read my articles regularly know how much I always emphasize building your own estate directory, will find this part familiar. Make sure to include some personal information in the pet care section of your own estate directory that will be very useful for your executor, those who will take up caring for your pets and above all else, for your pet him or herself.
Here’s a good place to start when it comes to listing out instructions:
- Feeding habits (portion sizes, dietary restrictions, special treats)
- Veterinarian info and medical records
- Medical conditions, medications (example: when last shots were administered, allergies, etc…)
- Their favorite play toys
- Their favorite things to do: Swimming, long hikes, agility, eating couches
- The things they don’t like: Thunder, doesn’t like to be picked up, won’t use the litter box if you’re watching, etc…
As I mentioned, this is just an outline, so feel free to get a little creative here if you like.
Our pets mean the world to us and often see only our positive traits. Let’s try and live up to their lofty vision of us and be a hero for them when they need it most.
Kevin-Barry Henry (for Daphne).My Book is on Sale Now for the Holidays
THIS ARTICLE IS PROVIDED AS A GENERAL SOURCE OF INFORMATION ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED TO BE PERSONAL INVESTMENT OR LEGAL ADVICE. READERS SHOULD CONSULT WITH THEIR FINANCIAL OR LEGAL ADVISOR TO ENSURE IT IS SUITABLE FOR THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES.