Almost everyone experiences the loss of a beloved pet at some point. Dogs, cats, reptiles, rodents, and many others can have shorter lifespans than humans.
As a pet owner, you may be prepared to lose your pets before they lose you. But what will happen if you become ill or die before your pet passes away?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Find an Emergency Caregiver
- Step 2: Get Friends Onboard
- Step 3: Create a Written Notice
- Step 4: Choose a Permanent Home for Your Pets
- Step 5: Rehome Pets After Your Death
- Step 6: Include Pets in Your Will
- Step 7: Make a Trust for Your Pet
- Step 8: Create a Power of Attorney
- Step 9: Stay in Touch with Caregivers
- Adopting a Pet Whose Owner Died
As a responsible pet owner, there are multiple steps you can take to make sure your pet is cared for after you die.
Ensuring that they continue to get their quality kibble, toys and infinite cuddles is the best you can do for them. Pets are beloved family members, and you want to make sure they are cared for in their future.
Below, we’ve listed a few suggestions on how to get started, so you can plan ahead and get those extra scritches and belly rubs in now.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
Step 1: Find an Emergency Caregiver
Identify at least one (and ideally two or three) reliable friends or family members who could take care of your pets for a few days. These aren’t necessarily people who will permanently adopt your pets. Instead, they’ll care for your pets until they go to new permanent homes.
Make sure to choose people who are fully prepared for the responsibility. That means their kids are okay with animals, and their pets will be happy to cooperate, too.
Alternatively, the emergency caregiver could provide temporary care for your pets in your home. They should be able to make time in their schedule in case of an emergency and should live nearby.
The emergency pet caregivers you choose will agree to provide emergency care to your pets if something should happen to you. You should provide them with access to your home, as well as specific caregiving instructions.
Give them the name of your veterinarian, a form of payment if you can for any upcoming veterinary care, as well as any plans you have for the permanent placement of your pets.
Ensure your pets are cared for if something happens.
Create a free, interactive Cake end-of-life planning profile. document your wishes for your pet, and share your preferences with a loved one instantly.
Step 2: Get Friends Onboard
While you’re planning for your pet’s care when you die, you can encourage your friends to do the same. Planning together can make it easier to broach the subject and ask a friend to act as a temporary caregiver for your pet. You can offer the same support in return.
If you have a group of three friends or more, you can create a document that lists each of your duties when it comes to emergency pet care. It should also include each person’s veterinary information and any permanent plans listed for your pets.
Step 3: Create a Written Notice
As soon as you know who your emergency caregivers are, create an alert card that fits in your wallet. If something happens to you, anyone looking in your wallet will see the card and know who to call.
Additionally, you can post the same card on your refrigerator or in another prominent place in your home.
The emergency alert should include the names and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregiver or caregivers. It should also include instructions for what to do with your pets immediately (put your dog in her crate with food and water, for example) and the name and phone number of your vet.
Step 4: Choose a Permanent Home for Your Pets
If you have a friend or family member who you trust implicitly with the care of your pet or pets, you’re in luck. This person might be the same as your emergency caregiver, who takes care of your pet immediately after your death. They might be a different person entirely—one who lives too far away to act as an emergency caregiver, for example.
When you’re choosing a permanent caregiver or guardian for your pets, think about how that person has interacted with your pets in the past. Also, consider their opinions on pet care and euthanasia and whether those beliefs align with yours.
While you can give some instructions for the care of your pet after your death, you can’t control the decisions a caregiver makes once you’re gone. It’s important to choose someone whose caregiving values are similar to yours.
Step 5: Rehome Pets After Your Death
If you don’t have a perfect candidate to adopt your pets permanently, you can instruct your temporary caregiver to place your pets with new owners.
This is an added responsibility, and it can take weeks or months to find the perfect home. If this is the method you choose, make sure your emergency caregivers are willing to go the extra mile.
Alternatively, you could make a donation to a pet sanctuary or “pet retirement home” to ensure that they take care of your pet after your death.
However, make sure you visit and trust the organization first. Ask how they care for their pets, and what would happen to your pet if the organization were to run out of funding and shut down.
Step 6: Include Pets in Your Will
You can make a verbal—and even written—agreement with your friends and family that you’ll care for each other’s pets if any of you passes away. But nothing is set in stone unless it’s listed in your will.
Temporary caregivers don’t need to be listed. They’ll need to step in long before anyone has time to execute your will. However, you’ll need to list the permanent adopter of your animals in your will, as well as any additional provisions you’ve set aside.
When you create a will, you’ll assign an executor—the person who makes sure all of your instructions are followed. Make sure you trust your executor to act in your best interest and in the best interest of your pets.
It’s a good idea to authorize your executor to withdraw designated funds from your estate for the care of your pet or pets.
If your pet has to be rehomed or transported, you should provide funds to cover those costs, as well. You can also grant your executor the authority to make decisions on behalf of your pet.
Step 7: Creating a Trust for Your Pet
A trust is different from a will in that it can go into effect immediately—providing care for your pet as soon as you’re unable to. A trust also applies if you become too ill to care for your pet.
With a trust, you set aside money for the care of your pet or pets. You assign a specific trustee, who takes control of the trust in the event that you die or become unable to care for your pets.
Creating a trust separate from your will has the benefit of assigning specific funds to the care of your pet. It also ensures that those funds are spent only by the trustee, and only on the care of your pets.
If you create a trust for your animals, make sure the trustee is either the permanent caregiver you’ve chosen or the emergency caregiver if they need to find a home for your pet.
Step 8: Create a Power of Attorney
Another step you can take in ensuring your pet’s welfare if you die is authorizing a power of attorney. A power of attorney grants someone the authority to conduct your affairs if and when you’re unable to.
A power of attorney is simpler to set up than a will or trust and can authorize friends or family to care for your pet. It can give them permission to withdraw funds on your pet’s behalf and even rehome your pet if need be.
Step 9: Stay in Touch with Caregivers
People’s decisions aren’t always permanent. Living situations and priorities can change over time. If you decide on an emergency caregiver or a permanent living situation for your pet after you die, make sure you check in on those people periodically.
If they’ve changed their minds, you’ll need to find other people who are prepared to take on the responsibility. It’s important to make sure they’re still on board, even if you have a written agreement.
Adopting a Pet Whose Owner Died
As mentioned above, creating a care plan for your pet can be easier if you do it with friends and family. Along the way, you might find yourself taking on the responsibility as emergency or permanent caregiver for a friend’s pet.
You’ll need to speak with the pet’s owner in-depth about his or her care to make sure you’re both on the same page. If the person dies before you’ve had a chance to ask about his or her pet and how to take care of that pet, you’ll have to do your best.
Check for vet records or call local vets to see if they have any information about your pet on file. Look for the type of food the pet eats, and try to maintain as much consistency as possible.
When you adopt a pet whose owner has recently died, you should be prepared for an adjustment period. Especially with a dog or a cat, the pet can go through a mourning period. Just like humans, pets often mourn the loss of a beloved family member. A dog or cat might act out and take weeks, months, or even a year or more to settle into their new life.
Legalities Only Go so Far
When it comes to making sure your pet is taken care of after you die, creating a will, trust, or power of attorney is a good idea. But those legal documents will only go so far in creating a stable life for your pet.
A formal document can make sure your pet has adequate funds to cover his or her costs going forward. But just as importantly, you want to make sure you’re on the same page with anyone you’re trusting to execute your wishes.
That includes emergency and permanent caregivers, trustees, powers of attorney, and executors of your will. Keep in touch with these people to make sure they’re all still on board with the plan.
Most of all, take the time to choose the right people to take care of your pet if you die. If you ensure that someone has a similar approach to pet care, it can be relieving for you and your pet.
Making the transition to a new owner can be hard, but with the right person, your furry friend will be in good hands.