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Sad Pug PuppyWith pets' average shorter lifespans, humans often find themselves outliving them. Yet what happens if we die before our furry friends? An unexpected demise can leave Marley or Simba alone with no caretaker. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure that your companions receive the pet care they need after you’re deceased.

Legal Arrangements for Pet Care

Most jurisdictions’ legal codes regard animals as property. At the same time, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have anti-cruelty statutes. The New Republic’s Suzanne Monyak discusses new laws and court cases that may change their legal statuses. Petfinder also explains that some jurisdictions now classify humans with pets as guardians rather than owners.

Still, animals cannot inherit property under current laws. This adds complexity to issues surrounding guardianship after a pet’s human companion dies. You’ll need to involve a third party such as a friend, family member, or organization to care for your pets in the event of your death. You’ll also have to enact legal solutions to provide for your cherished companions. Nolo spells out a few options that you as an animal guardian can use:

  • Bequeathing your pets to someone in your will or trust.
  • Establishing a pet trust with funds and instructions.
  • Working with charitable organizations to find a home for your pets.

Leaving Pets to a Trusted Guardian

Every state allows the naming of animal guardians in wills or trusts. You’ll also want to leave behind money earmarked for the animals’ care. Keep in mind, however, that specific provisions about the usage of these funds aren’t legally enforceable. This shouldn’t be a problem so long as you select someone you trust.

Another Nolo article advises that you can leave the pet to one individual and the money for its care to a different person. This is an ideal solution if the pet’s new beneficiary receives needs-based government assistance, since the extra chunk of change could violate eligibility rules. It could also work in situations where the pet’s intended guardian is a great caregiver but isn’t so savvy in money matters.

Creating a Pet Trust

Nolo contributor Mary Randolph details how a pet trust can assist in estate planning. This trust is an all-inclusive vehicle where you can specify your pet’s legal guardian, instructions for its care, and money to cover these expenses. After your death, the named individual receives both your pet and the funds you’ve set aside. This person must follow your trust’s instructions and spend the money only on your companion’s wellbeing. Animal trusts are legal in every state, with no need for human beneficiaries.

Working With a Third-Party Organization

You may not have a trusted person in your social circle to care for your pets. Thankfully, some third-party groups will either take over their maintenance or find them new homes. These groups include Purdue University’s Peace of Mind program or Oklahoma State University’s Cohn Family Shelter. If this sounds like a feasible option, be sure to check for organizations in your local area.

Practical Pet Care Options

Legal provisions are vital to guarantee your pets’ care, but you must also make practical arrangements for their safety and wellbeing if you suddenly die. The Spruce’s Jenna Stregowski advises leaving copies of your home keys with family or friends so they can gain access to your animals. Also, be sure to give them explicit instructions in case they don’t hear from you for a certain period of time.

We do many things for our pets, recognizing how much they depend on us. Yet it’s also wise to make arrangements for our beloved animal companions in case they outlive us. Legal documentation and practical steps are necessary to ensure they aren’t left alone without a human to help them.

Category: Loss

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