Elderly person holding their pet cat.

How to Include Your Pet in Your End-of-Life Wishes

Most of us approach pet ownership with the understanding that we’ll need to provide end-of-life care for many of our animals throughout our lifetimes. Dogs and cats (not to mention reptiles, rodents and birds) have shorter lifespans than their human caretakers, and being prepared for your companion’s final days is an important aspect of loving care. But planning for the opposite scenario is part of good pet ownership, too.

After all, none of us know for certain when we might die or become incapacitated by an illness or injury. Planning to provide for our animals after we’re gone is another way to show them love and ensure they are cared for as members of the family. When it comes to estate planning, your pets should get the same consideration you would give to any other loved one!

Can I include my pet in my will?

Current state laws view animals as property, which means pets cannot be gifted anything or named as a beneficiary in a will. However, you can specify in your will that you’d like custody of your pet transferred to a specific person and include money for the animal’s care. When you die, that money and your pet go together to your chosen beneficiary.

The downside to this arrangement is that the care instructions left in the document are not legally binding. Once the funds have been disbursed, there is no guarantee that the person who receives your pet will use the money for the pet’s care or even that they keep the pet. If you trust your chosen caretaker, this may not be a problem for you. But if you’d prefer a greater amount of security, you may consider setting up a pet trust.

How does a pet trust work?

Unlike a will, which disburses its funds all at once, a trust is a fund set up for a specific purpose that pays out over time. In setting up a trust, you will have a beneficiary (the pet), a caretaker, and a trustee who manages the funds and ensures that the terms of the trust are being followed.

Although pet trusts are a very secure way to provide for your companion’s future, they aren’t right for everyone. It’s more time-consuming and expensive to set up a trust than to modify a will, and you will need to consult with a lawyer to do so. It can also be inflexible, which could cause trouble for a caretaker whose life circumstances change after receiving your pet. Finally, a pet trust can still be challenged by your other heirs. In some cases, courts have ruled in favor of these challenges, especially when the money left for a pet seems excessive.

It’s ultimately your decision whether to account for your pet in your will or go the extra step and set up a trust. The best path will depend on your pet’s needs, your personal finances, and who you have available in your life to serve as a caretaker or trustee.

Steps to follow when including your pet in your estate planning:

No matter what form of estate planning you choose, there are a few steps to follow that can ensure your pet is well cared for in the event something unexpected happens to you:

  • Have a serious talk with your loved ones about your wishes. Identify a few people who could act as temporary or long-term guardians for your companions. You will ideally want an emergency caregiver (who can take your pet short-term), a long-term caregiver, and an alternate in case something changes in the caregiver’s life circumstances. It may be a good idea to bring up the topic with a group of friends so you can all agree to be one another’s pet guardians when possible.
  • Make a card for your wallet specifying who to contact for pet care in the event of an emergency. Place a duplicate of the card in a prominent place in your home, such as the refrigerator door or wherever you store your other emergency contacts.
  • Create a detailed care sheet for your pet. Consider what someone else would need to know when assuming ownership. What vet do you use? What grooming service? What type of food does the pet eat? Any medications or allergies? This care sheet will come in handy any time you need a pet-sitter, too, so having these details written down can save you a lot of trouble.
  • Determine how much money your pet’s care costs per year. Take into account the cost of food, grooming, vet visits, and any minor expenses. Calculate how long your pet might live. This will give you a good idea of how much money to set aside in the will or trust to cover for your pet’s care.

Once you’ve handled these details, you can discuss your wishes with your attorney and make the necessary arrangements. Just bear in mind that you may need to adjust your documentation throughout your life as pets come and go or caregiver circumstances change.

What happens if I don’t have anyone who can care for my pet after I’m gone?

Not everyone has friends or family available to provide long-term care for a pet. Fortunately, there are alternatives to ensure a pet is placed with a loving home after the owner’s death. These “pet retirement homes” or sanctuaries provide lifetime care to animals in exchange for a monetary donation. Many are run through university veterinary schools, while others are non-profit rescue groups.

You can ask your veterinarian for recommendations or call your local animal shelter to be placed in contact with a rescue group who can help you to make these end-of-life arrangements to ensure your pet will be cared for.

Planning for your own end-of-life arrangements can be complicated, but planning for your pet’s doesn’t have to be. Best Friends Pet Passings & Cremations in Albuquerque, New Mexico provides pet cremations, memorial services, and grief resources to help you say goodbye to your furry family members as peacefully as possible. Reach out to us to learn more at 505-345-5615.

Elderly person holding their pet cat.