Protecting Your Pets After You’re Gone: How to Create a Trust for Your Pet

The thought of life without our pets is tough enough to contemplate. We get, if lucky, ten years on average with our dogs or cats, and those years go by quickly. But what happens if our pets outlive us?

Preparing for the Unknown

If you left home one morning for a day at work and on your way home were in a car accident that claimed your life, what would happen to your dog or cat awaiting your return? Would anyone know to check on them? How long would they be alone before someone would remember to care for them? And beyond that, what would happen to your pet after your death?

If you don’t have a plan, you aren’t alone. Sadly, when pet owners don’t make arrangements to care for their four-legged companions, when and if something happens to them, it is the pets who pay the price. The ASPCA estimates that every year, approximately 500,000 dogs and cats enter shelters when their owners experience an emergency or pass away. Those numbers are staggering when added to the already unclaimed and abandoned animals already in shelters.

Maybe your pet will be adopted, but not every dog or cat is that fortunate.

Unfortunately, without a proper plan in place for the future care of your pets, they are at risk of ending up in a shelter where they could be euthanized. If you are a good pet parent, you provide regular vet care, invest in the best food, and treats possible and generally spoil them every day, they are part of your life. But we rarely think our pets will outlive us.

Have an Emergency Plan in Place

The best place to start with your pets’ care in case of an emergency is to have someone lined up as a temporary caregiver. Should you be incapacitated or no longer here, have someone who knows in advance to make checking on your pet a priority. Maybe a neighbor could step in for a specified time to feed and watch your pet. The best way to assure your pet is cared for is to have a formal arrangement in a will, a pet trust, and money set aside for your pets’ care and someone to get the money for their care into the caregiver’s hands. Pets are expensive, so setting aside money to include possible vet care, grooming, medicines, food, treats, boarding, and toys are things to think about when preparing the trust.

Also, realize that you can have more than one person who will be responsible for your pets. It’s best to always have a backup plan to make sure the initial caregiver is still ready and able to care for your pets. You can also have someone appointed to direct the funds to the caregiver; this can be an attorney or a trusted friend. Along with planning for the financial side of your pets’ care, it is also a good idea to have important information for each pet explained in a summary. In this document, it is good to include your pet(s)’ habits, preference for food and treats, any special dietary needs, medical conditions, medications taken, vet records, including vaccinations and how your pets behave around other people and animals, in the event they need to be fostered or adopted. Your pets will not understand why you never returned and so keeping their schedules and environment as much like it was when you loved and cared for them is very important. The ASPCA recommends making a list of daily activities of your pets, down to where they prefer to sleep. It is reassuring to your pet in this time of confusion to place items of your clothing with the pet so they can have your smell to settle them.

The ASPCA offers pet owners a Pet Alert Card to keep in your wallet, which will alert first responders that you have a pet at home. Make sure to list two emergency contact numbers for authorities to notify. An emergency alert sticker is also good to place on a door or window to let people know there are pets inside your house, not only in case of your death, but if there is a fire.

We don’t like to think about our own death, but imagine being your pet and not knowing what happened. Have a plan in place to make sure they are cared for and loved in the event your separation comes sooner than you think.


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