Many of us are remiss in putting in place the proper documents and procedure should we die an unexpected and/or sudden death. Some of us are even more remiss in not planning for the eventuality of death at an older age while we still have time to do so. I would venture to say that most of us haven’t made arrangements for our pets should we die tomorrow and statistically speaking, over 6,000 of us will.
I’ve always thought that my siblings will be certain to find a proper home for my animals as they are both pet loving people. But they have busy lives, and what if their only option is the local shelter? We all know that there are as many kill shelters out there as no-kill, and that many shelters are either neglectful of the animals due to time and money constraints, or they put the animals down that seem stressed, anti-social and/or shy.
I’m certain all three of my animals would be extremely stressed if they suddenly found themselves put in a shelter and out of the loving home in which they have always lived. With no prior arrangements you take a risk that your pets may become abused, neglected or homeless. I’ve read many news reports and rescue bios of animals that were simply turned out in the neighborhood by relatives after their owners died. When an unwanted cat or dog is euthanized every eight seconds in this country the odds are truly against your pet.
So what are our options and how do we plan? We’ve all heard about the ‘pet’ that inherits everything. This is truly an option but also elicits the most protest from relatives who think you must have lost your mind. There is also a ‘Pets Trust.’ This is much like a trust you make for children where the Trust is funded with assets and a Trustee is appointed to watch over the pet’s caregiver. Legalzoom.com has a Pet Care Trust Agreement form that can be found on their website. Another option is to include your pet in your ‘Last Will & Testament,’ appointing a caregiver and making a financial gift to that person.
However, if none of these are an option for you there is another solution. According to an article written by Jon Sayers, president of an online estate planning company, you can write a ‘Pets Letter of Wishes’ that can “provide a powerful moral statement telling the Probate Court exactly what you and your pet want.” This will protect your pet without taking the steps involved in making a ‘will.’ In this letter you can state who you would wish to care for your pets upon your death, what monetary funds should be used to help care for your pets, and list all contact information. Of course, it’s very important that you discuss this with the persons named prior to writing the letter. It’s also good to have an alternative person named in case circumstances have changed and your designee is unable to take the responsibility.
But there is more that you can do that many of us wouldn’t necessarily think about. You know your pet better than anybody else and that knowledge needs to survive if you die. Your pets will be experiencing grief and abandonment so what can you do to ease their suffering? I suggest that you write another document to go with the ‘Pets Letter of Wishes.’ In this document you need to include information such as what your pet eats, do you make their food and if so with what ingredients and why, habits, likes, toys, medical conditions, medical records, and vet information. Be certain to add how your pet behaves with other people, pets, and situations. Is your pet afraid of fireworks? This would be good knowledge for someone taking over his or her care.
Through a wonderful FB friend who adopted a Jack from them last year, I discovered an organization entitled ‘Safe Place For Pets.’ Safe Place for Pets is dedicated to working in partnership with terminally ill pet owners to find new homes for their animal companions. What a lovely organization and I’m certain a great relief to those with a terminal diagnosis who want to be certain their pets are well placed and cared for. Their website is: http://www.safeplacepets.org
In all the articles I have read on this subject some very personal things were clearly missing. Carry a card in your wallet with your pets listed and the address where they can be found. This is important in the case of a sudden death or injury such as a car accident. Make a list of their toys, beds, medications, etc, and where in the house they can be found. Write a letter about what your pets have meant to you, how you feel about them, what they have done for you in your life. Write an introduction to your pets, even if the recipient of your loved animals has already met him or her, let them know how precious they are, what they have given you, and give them as much insight as you can into how you treated them and loved them.
In this way you can be certain that you’ve done everything you can to ensure a wonderful future for them. Put the steps in place to be that guardian angel while you still have the ability to do so.