Dog on a path in a forest
Dealing with death, Planning for death

What Happens to Your Pets After You Die?

You’re blindly browsing your social media feed one night and you see it … again. And it tugs at your heartstrings, but you brush it off and move on. Then you look over at your brand new puppy asleep half-in and half-out of the expensive bed that you bought for him, oh look, he’s having a running dream! Go catch that squirrel!

The post in question that triggers your guilt trip reads, “URGENT! Need to adopt out my grandmother’s cat, Miss Whiskers! Up to date on shots. Great with kids. All pet supplies we have are included. Free to a good home!” You know that your friend who posted about Miss Whiskers lost her grandmother a few weeks ago and that her grandmother had a lovely cat. You’ve met Miss Whiskers, she was affectionate – for a cat – but you’re more of a dog person anyway.

All too often, pet-owners assume that someone, anyone, will step up to take care of their beloved fur-kid. Pets are part of the family after all, and no one would abandon a loved family member. Right? Right?

What Happens After a Pet Owner Dies?

As much as your family and friends might love your beloved pet, they might not be able to take care of your pet. All too often, those pets are left behind and end up in animal shelters. This is especially true for elderly or sick pets who require a lot of medical attention or affection.

It’s not uncommon for an executor or family member to forget about a dying person’s pets until several days later. In losing you, your family and friends go through the initial stages of grief and your pets might be left behind. This means they can go days without food or water until they are remembered – or worse. That’s not the fate you’d want wished on a beloved member of your family.

What You Can Do About It

As a pet owner, you’ve accepted the responsibility and the honor to provide for and love your best friend. It’s a great and wonderful thing, but it does come with responsibilities. There are a few things you can do to make sure that your pet will always have a safe place to live if you’re no longer able to provide your pet with a warm, safe, and comfortable home.

You can make a plan for your pet. It’s not enough to ask a friend to take care of Miss Whiskers and promise that they’ll get money from your estate if they do. You need to write it down in your Will or set up a separate trust for your pet (Yes, that’s a thing. There are trust fund fur-kids).

Most states look at pets as personal property, and just like with any other kind of personal property, you can make sure that there is enough money to take care of the property. This means you could say something like, “I leave the sum of $10,000 to the caretaker of my cat, Miss Whiskers, this sum shall be used to provide for Miss Whisker’s for the remainder of Miss Whisker’s life.” (This is example text and your requirements might look different.)

However, it’s not enough to plan for your pet if you pass away. You also need to plan for who cares for your pets if you’re incapacitated. What happens to Miss Whiskers if you are in a bad car accident and are unable to return home for an extended period of time to care for her? Who makes sure that Miss Whiskers is cared for? Who ensures she get food? Exercise? If she’s an outdoor cat, who ensures Miss Whiskers can come in on a cold night?

Besides providing for a pet if you die or if you’re otherwise incapacitate, you need to ensure that it’s as easy as possible for your pet’s caregiver. It’s important to gather all of your pets medical history and make it easily accessible to a caregiver. Just like their people, pets have a medical history and you want to make sure that your pet’s medical history is available so that your pet can be properly care for.

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