Protect Your Pets in 10 Steps

Animal Samaritans Staff

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Plan for their care when you can’t take care of them yourself

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we never had to worry about who will look after our pets or how they will manage without us? If you’re like most pet owners, you haven’t thoroughly prepared for your pet’s future if they should outlive you. The following tips are intended to give you peace of mind and make sure that your four-legged children will be cared for in the event you are not around to care for them yourself.

ESTABLISH PET OWNERSHIP

Sounds obvious, right? Who owns your pet is not always as clear cut as people think, especially if you’re not the only human in their life. Let’s say your boyfriend or girl-friend bought the pet that lives with you and they gave it to you as a gift, which they deny. Legally, whose pet is it? Let’s say your dog lives with your best friend because you had to move into an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. How long is it before the friend can claim it’s their dog? Or can they? What if your spouse brought his or her cat to the marriage, but you divorced and the cat now stays with you half the time? If more than one person can claim ownership of your pets, meet with an attorney who specializes in pet custody and establish your legal ownership. Nullifying any potential dispute over who owns your pets will make everyone’s life easier, including theirs.

ESTABLISH A GUARDIAN FOR YOUR PETS

Start by talking to the people close to you. Find out who is not only interested but also capable of taking on the responsibility of caring for your pets. Some friends and family may love your animals, but career, school, or other commitments could disqualify them as ideal candidates. If there’s no one who can commit to being the guardian of your pets, talk to nearby no-kill animal shelters and rescue organizations. Many, like Animal Samaritans, will take in your pet and commit to it for life with the caveat you can provide reasonable financial support for their care.

UPDATE YOUR WILL

Once you’ve established a future guardian for your pets and have specified instructions for how you wish your pets to be treated, document this information in your will. This makes your intentions clear and legal. In most states, including California, pets are viewed by the law as personal property. And like our possessions, ownership of your pets is generally transferred in a will.

CREATE A PET TRUST

If you can secure money in a trust for your pets, do so. Providing financially for your pets’ future will make it easier for your guardian to fulfill their promise—and to secure a guardian in the first place. Figure a thousand dollars for every year you expect your pet to live without you.

DOCUMENT YOUR GUARDIAN’S AGREEMENT

Create a basic letter of agreement for your pets’ guardian to sign that states what they will do, under what circumstances, and when they will do it. Have them sign it, have it notarized, and make multiple copies.

CREATE A PET SAVINGS ACCOUNT

It’s possible you may become incapacitated while living and unable to care for your pets. In this case, a trust may not provide immediate access to the funds your pet’s guardian needs to care for them.

DESCRIBE YOUR PETS IN ALL DOCUMENTS

Clarity is king when it comes to the law. To minimize debate over which animals are yours, especially if their guardian becomes a shelter or other animal organization. Include the animals’ names, species, breed (if known), colorings and markings, and microchip number.

INCLUDE “ALL FUTURE PETS” IN YOUR DOCUMENTS

It’s important that you cover all pets in your family, especially those that arrive after the creation of your will and trust.

KEEP A LIST OF PET FAVORITES

If your pets are suddenly without you, their new guardian can mitigate their stress by knowing what makes them happy. Make a list of their favorite things: favorite food, favorite treat (maybe it’s eggs or carrots or something from the pet store), favorite toys, and indicate that your pets’ microchips need to be updated with new contact information.

SEE A VETERINARIAN REGULARLY

The healthier your pets are when you’re gone, the better they’ll fare in your absence. It will also cost less to take care of them. And if you’ve left them with a nokill shelter or other animal organization and you want them to get adopted into a new home, it’s much more likely to happen if they’re healthy.

It’s hard to think about a day when we won’t be able to care for our beloved pets, but responsible pet owners will have the foresight to make those difficult plans, just in case.

EDITOR’S NOTE

Planning for unexpected, short-term emergencies is also very valuable. If an emergency happens, who will step in and take care of your pet if you cannot make it home? Is there family, a friend, a pet sitter, or a neighbor, who can watch over your pet or evacuate it if the emergency is a natural disaster? How will they be contacted? How will they have access to your pet?

Protect Your Pets in 10 StepsHaving a to-go bag packed and ready will help the caregiver grab and go or have supplies readily accessible.

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