In a 2013 survey, it was estimated that household pets outnumbered children in the US by four to one. That’s quite a big number, considering that “pets” can include cats, dogs, fish, birds, small reptiles, and rodents, as well as a few others.

In Canada, almost 50% of the population owns at least one pet, while in the UK, 45% of people have a furry (or scaled or feathered) companion in their home.

That’s a lot of pet owners in the world, and many of us believe that our pets are part of the family. We feed them well, exercise them, buy them toys, and make sure that we do everything we can to keep them happy, healthy, and spoiled while they are in our care. But what happens to them if we, the owners, are met with untimely or unforeseen circumstances?

In this post, we’ll talk about the importance and necessity of including your pets in your Last Will or Trust, and what your options are when choosing a caretaker.

We include our pets in travel, moving, and everyday plans, why wouldn’t we include them in our estate plans?

How Do I Include My Pet In My Estate Plans?

There are a few different options for including your pet in your estate plans, and which one you choose depends on your personal preferences. Regardless of which you choose, make sure to discuss your wishes with your desired caretaker and confirm that they are willing to take responsibility for your pet should you pass away.

Technically, you may not leave money or property to your pets, but you can protect them in other ways.

Tell Your Executor

The first and most simple way is to let your executor know who you would like to care for your pet, and how you would like your pet cared for.

Upon your death, your executor would see to it that your pet went to your chosen caretaker. While they would be able to ensure that your furry friend went to the right person, they would not be able to enforce care specifications or take legal action in your stead should the care standards not be met by your guardian.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to choose someone who you trust and who you believe will be a responsible and loving guardian to your animal companion.

Letter of Intent

The second is to include a Letter of Intent with your Last Will. A Letter of Intent documents something that you would like to be considered upon your passing, but it is not legally binding. In it, you can include who you want your caretaker to be, how they should care for your pet, and other specifications.

Last Will and Testament

Your third option is to write your pet, and their caretaker, into your Last Will and Testament. To do this, specify a pet guardian and how much money you would like to designate for the maintenance and upkeep of your animal companion.

Including your pet in your Last Will still will not guarantee that any money left for their maintenance will be used for such, but if you’ve chosen the right guardian, it will ensure that they are supplied with financial support if they ever need to take over ownership of your pet.

Living Trust

The fourth and sturdiest option is to include your pet in your Trust. In your Trust, you may designate a caretaker and a specified care plan.

You can detail how much you would like to leave them for maintenance of your pet, how you would like them to care for your furry friend, and even name a representative to enforce your requirements in court if your caretaker does not follow your wishes.

Why Should I Include My Pets in My Estate Plans?

Including your pets in your Estate Plans ensures that they aren’t left without anyone to care for them in the event of your passing. Instead of going to someone who you know and trust, they may end up in a shelter, which can be a difficult adjustment for a pet who has just lost their owner and who has become accustomed to a certain lifestyle.

Kitten on StreetSometimes, shelters will end up taking care of your pet until a proper home can be found, but rehoming pets who are used to living in specific situations (they are the only pet, or they aren’t used to children) can be daunting and your best buddy could end up spending a long time in a shelter waiting for the right family. It also increases the number of animals in a shelter, where overcrowding is common, limiting the space for pets who have been abandoned or abused.

Older pets (like dogs and cats), and pets who have long life expectancies (such as parrots or horses) or special needs can find it especially difficult to not only lose their “person”, but to lose their home and routines as well.

Making the time to include your pets in your plans give you the peace of knowing that if anything does happen, your pet will be cared for.

Choosing your guardian, and discussing your pets needs and preferences lets you know that Mittens or Barkley will still get those late night feedings that they love so much.

What to Look For In a Guardian

Choosing a guardian can be a difficult task because you may either have a number of people in mind, or you aren’t quite sure who would be a good fit.

The most important factors include someone who:

  • Knows and loves your pet.
  • Is experienced in pet ownership.
  • Has stable living arrangements and income.
  • Is willing and able to care for your pet.
  • Your pet enjoys spending time with.

Just because you know someone who may want to take care of your pet, it doesn’t mean that they will be the right person. Make sure that they are ready for the responsibilities and that they understand what caring for your pet will entail.

Talk to your caretaker beforehand, and allow them to spend time with your pet. Make sure that your companion is comfortable with that person and the circumstances that they could be brought into. If the guardian has other pets, make sure that Fluffy can get along with them and that the living arrangements will allow your pet to live happily.

If you don’t have anyone who could be a guardian, there are a few options that you can look into.

  • One is to enlist in a program with a local shelter. Some offer specific programs where you can request that your pet be cared for and rehomed by them.
  • There are also organizations that specialize in caring for pets who don’t have anywhere to go after their owner passes. For a fee or a donation, they will care for your pet and promote it to people and families who may be interested until a suitable home is found.

Be informed when choosing one of these organizations and make sure to visit prior to making a decision. Check to make sure that your pet will be socialized and exercised, as well as fed a good diet and given one-on-one time with staff.

What Can I Do In The Meantime?

Curious PuppyTo cover all of your bases, and to be proactive, there are a few things that you can do to make sure that if you are temporarily unable to take care of your pet, or if there is an emergency, your furry friend is protected.

  • Put an “In Case of Emergency” sign on your front door listing the number of pets in your home and your emergency contact numbers. If something should happen while you are at work, emergency responders will know that there is an animal in the home.
  • Keep a pet card in your wallet. Many pet stores carry these for a low price, and they include information about your pet, your address, and any special care instructions, as well as an emergency contact. First responders will be able to use the card to contact someone to care for your pet while you are unavailable.
  • Make sure that your family, friends, neighbors, and landlords are aware that you have a pet. That way, if there is a hazard in your neighborhood while you are not home, they can inform you or let someone know about your companion.
  • Keep all of your pet’s identification information up-to-date, including vet information, microchip registration, and city registration. If your pet does wind up in a shelter temporarily for whatever reason, they will be able to identify you as the owner.

In Conclusion

Pets are a part of the family and they should be treated as such. Planning for your pet’s whole life is a great way to ensure that they get the care, love, and devotion that they need if something should happen to you.

We include our pets in almost all other aspects of our lives, so it only makes sense to plan for their futures when we plan for our own.

Do you have any pets? Tell us all about them in the comments!

Posted by Brittany Foster

Brittany is a writer, editor, and content manager interested in law, marketing, and technology. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2014.