I know, it’s not a pleasant or pretty thought, but the truth is that even if you have a large network of fellow pet lovers, when your time is up, all of the promises and vows friends and family made to assume responsibility for your pets may mean nothing after all. People change their lives pretty readily these days – they move, switch jobs and partners, and if they’re as crazy about their pets as you are, they may not have the room to take in your pets when the time comes.
Just as you have to get your final wishes about your estate down in writing in the form of a will, you’ll have to make arrangements for your non-human family members as well. After all, in the eyes of the law animals are property, the legal equivalent of a washing machine in most cases, so you’ll have to not only appoint caretakers but you’ll likely have to earmark funds for their continued care.
It goes without saying that you’ll want the future guardian of your beloved pets to be trustworthy, and being an animal lover is not enough. Does this person have enough of a routine that she’ll be able to walk your pets at regular intervals? Is she settled enough in her life to be able to provide the stability all pets crave? Is there any chance that she may drop everything and move cross-country for her dream job, and take her own pets along, but not yours?
The person you choose should be sensitive to the fact that your pets will undoubtedly be traumatized by your sudden absence, and also by being uprooted from familiar surroundings and placed in a new home with strange noises, smells, people, and pets. Ideally, your caretaker will be sensitive to your pets’ fears and apprehensions, and provide them with plenty of time, space and attention.
Though it may not be the first choice that comes to mind, you may want to consider appointing your favorite animal shelter or humane society to serve as the primary guardian for your pets, on either a temporary or permanent basis. Many shelters and humane organizations have permanent-care arrangements with their members; and in exchange for a donation, the shelter will agree to take care of your pets for the remainder of their natural lifespans. This care can occur in the shelter itself, although numerous shelters across the country have designated, bought, or even constructed specific buildings to serve as housing for pets they’ve accepted into their long-term care programs.
You may choose to give your caretaker the freedom to “adopt out” your pets to new homes, with the caveat that there would be no hurry to place them; a safe, loving home would be the most important consideration. In essence, the guardian would be taking on a quasi-temporary status. Choose a minimum of two individuals who will agree to take care of your pets in the days that immediately follow an accident or death. In the aftermath of such a crisis, it’s sometimes easy to neglect pets, and this interim period is the most likely time that an unsuspecting person will come along and drop them off at the shelter, where their futures will be far from secure.
When it comes to the paperwork, you’ll need a will that specifically spells out how you plan to distribute your estate upon your death – from cash to financial investments. A trust essentially administers money from a specific trust account on a predetermined, often periodic basis to allow for the support of an individual, family or organization.
The basic difference between a will and a trust is that the tenets of a will kick in only upon the person’s death, and there can be a lengthy delay before the estate is distributed if the will is required to go through probate court in order to determine the validity of the document and to address any challenges. A trust can be activated either in the event of your death or temporary disability and cannot be contested by family or friends. If you’ve spelled out the terms of care for your pets only in your will and it gets stuck in probate court because of feuding relatives, the life of your pets will be in real jeopardy unless you’ve made short-term arrangements with a temporary caretaker.
For more information on planning for your pets’ futures, look for the new book, “PerPETual Care: Who Will Look After Your Pets If You’re Not Around?” at www.PerPETualCarebook.com