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If your Dog or Cat Outlives You

Have you ever worried about what would happen to your dog or cat if something happened to you? This is a serious consideration for many people, especially those who don’t have extended family or whose family would be unable or unwilling to care for a pet.

There are some steps you can take to help ensure the well-being of your pet should you no longer be able to care for him or her, or if you were to pass away before your dog or cat. 

One of the first things you want to do is sit down and really think about who you trust and who might have a situation where they would be willing and able to be your pet’s guardian in your absence. Be considerate of what limitations they might have, physically, financially and with their jobs, family, health and their own pets. Also think about who your dog or cat likes and who truly likes them.

You’ll want to have three people that you can rely on. Contact the people on your list and ask them if they’d be willing to take on a guardian role if the situation were to arise. The reason you want to have three people is that situations change and someone who you thought they would be able to help, might not be able for various reasons, and you want someone else on the list to be next in line.

Having a Will that includes provisions for your pet, or a Pet Protection Agreement, is a very important part of your planning. Make sure it spells out specifically who you would like to care for your dog, include all three people who agreed to be a potential guardian and their contact information.

If you are able, you might want to plan for your pet’s financial expenses in your absence. Think about what expense would be involved to keep your pet in good care. This would include veterinary visits, food, grooming, toys and incidentals. If you can, leaving that money to the appointed guardian or in a Pet Trust, that would be very considerate and appreciated.

Sometimes things happen that are very sudden, and one day you might not come home. If you live alone, this is a very scary thing. You’ve probably seen the My Dog is Home Alone wallet cards and key tags. They really are a very good idea. Developing a good relationship with a neighbor, where you watch out for each other and would notice if one of you didn’t come home, is also a good idea.

Not everyone has close friends and not everyone has someone to turn to or to ask for help. If this is your situation, also think about what sanctuaries might be willing to care for your dog. Obtain information about them and call and talk to someone about your situation. If you are able to make a donation or leave any financial resources to them in your Will, that would also be very appreciated.

Your Will, in regards to caring for a pet left behind, may not be totally enforceable, however, it does provide information for an Executor about how you would like to have things carried out. 

A large part of planning for your pet without you, is trusting someone. You have to be able to surrender to the hope that someone will honor their agreement with you. Perhaps you do the same for them in return should the situation be reversed.

Setting up a Pet Trust can also bring peace of mind.  You can be specific about how you request your pet to be cared for. You can also appoint a third-party to administer funds and to help ensure money is spent the way you desire.

You may want to consult with an attorney to find out what is enforceable in your state. They can also advise you on the best way to word your document, as to ensure things are as close as possible to the way you want them.

It’s not just single people that need to think about what would happen to their pet if something happened to them. Car accidents and other awful things happen to couples, and not all couples have family beyond themselves. Unfortunate situations happen to all types of people in all different age groups and situations. 

If you have adult children or relatives that would step up to the plate, or if you have a wonderful best friend that would never let you down, then great, but not everyone does. Even if you have people around you that you can count on, if you are a pet parent, it’s important to give this topic a little thought. 

There is a book called, When Your Pet Outlives You, by Charlotte Alexander and David Congalton that is well worth reading. Depending on where you live, an animal law committee in your city or state might also have documents available online to help guide you.

It’s important that your wishes on this topic be known before something happens to you, if it should, so others can plan and be prepared, just in case the situation were to arise.

We all hope and pray that this situation is one our beloved pets never have to cope with, but as their guardian, it’s part of your responsibility to plan for them, in case it does. The peace of mind you will have after planning will be well worth the discomfort of addressing the possible situation.

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