Estate Planning for 4 Legged Family

Yea I know; nobody wants to think about this let alone talk about this. I sure 
didn't when the Doctor asked me if I could get a Will made out within a day or two....

I hadn't wanted to think about it when he called me at 7am the previous day and said, "After reviewing your ultrasound last night, we need to get you in for an MRI right away this morning."

I paused, and asked, “Am I dying?" 

I asked not only due to the fact a Doctor called me at 7am, but also the fact I'd been fainting and throwing up from pain, my abdomen was distended, I couldn't keep food down, and I was getting so weak it was becoming almost impossible to function, work, and take care of my pets. I won't go into why it took so long to get treatment. I'll just say that it was due to a being at the mercy of an uninterested and incompetent PCP who would not order a test, and an HMO who insisted on PCP referral to see someone else. I finally had to take money out of savings to go to a REAL Doctor.

After what seemed like the longest silence of my life after I asked that question, the response was, "Well, we need more information."

That wasn't a No.

I didn't cry for me; I cried for my animals - all of whom I'd taken in when no one else would - due to age, medical needs, behavior or simply living on the streets. I had no family to take them in that didn't already have a houseful of animals they'd rescued. Ditto on the friends I'd consider trusting with their care.

I remembered how when my ex mother in-law had died, my ex sister in-law had called me and said "I'm going to throw this dog and cat in the ocean if you don't come get them. I locked them outside and won't feed them again" Fortunately I'd anticipated that, knowing my sister in-law as I did at that point, and had already lined up a new home for them that agreed to take them earlier than planned (I'd asked my sister in law to care for them for 2 weeks until the new adopters could come pick them up; she lasted 4 days). 

Sadly, many animals end up at shelters or being euthanized when their owners go into assisted living or pass; sadly their families cannot always be counted on to help the animals. 

Fortunately, I ended up not dying - as you can tell - but it did force me to research my options, especially as a "single pet parent". I want to share those options now to help others in the same situation.

Estate planning for 4 legged family requires two-fold planning:


1. What happens to them after you are gone?
2. What happens if they pass before you do?

For all these options, pre-planning is absolutely required to ensure your pets will be safe. 

What Happens to Them After You are Gone?
When I was researching my options, which did not include family nor friends, I found a place called the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center. The Center provides the physical, emotional, and medical needs of companion animals whose owners are no longer able to provide that care. Clients of the center include pet owners who want to assure their pet's future prior to entering a retirement home, being hospitalized for an extended period, or predeceasing a pet. 

Some Animal Shelters offer programs that enable your pets to be taken in and safely reside there until a new home is found. 

You could consider setting up an agreement with a local Rescue organization so your pet goes directly into Foster until a new home is found.

If you go with the Shelter or Rescue arrangement, be sure to at least once a year, review the agreement with them and update them regarding your pet's health and situation, so it doesn't end up going wrong at the worst possible time. 

You can make an agreement with your pet sitter that they will come to your home 
daily to care for your animals until a new home is found.

You can make an agreement with your Veterinarian that your animal will be boarded there until a new home can be found. 

In both the Pet Sitter and Veterinarian scenarios, you will want to stipulate how they are paid from your Estate to help care for the animal, and ensure they have your Executor's contact information and a copy of the Will or the relevant portions of it in case someone like my ex sister-in-law doesn't want that money spent on "stupid animals." In your Will and Executor instructions, you can specify which personal property is sold to provide those funds if that is necessary.

What happens if they pass before you do?
If your beloved 4 legged family member passes, or needs to be euthanized to prevent extreme suffering continuing, there are options that make it more humane for both you and your pet.

Veterinarians that come to the house. In this situation, your beloved pet is at home in their familiar place, their favorite food or toy nearby, instead of a cold, hard clinic table (sorry Veterinarians - that's not a diss; I feel same way about people hospitals!) 

There are Mobile Vets that will do this, but also often times your regular Veterinarian will agree to come to the house. 

Veterinarians usually have a burial or cremation service they work with, saving you the ordeal of coordinating all that during your saddest times. Many will even bring the ashes back to you if it's too hard to pick them up.

Pet services like The Pet Loss Center in Austin also provide full services, including pre-planning, in home services, and support groups (many Shelters also have grief support groups). 

In closing, remember that when you visit with your Family Attorney, be sure to tell them you need to include provisions for your 4 legged family members.