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Who will care for your pet when you pass away?

A pet is your companion, best friend, and part of your family. We grieve their loss as we would any loved one. It can also be upsetting to think about them being left behind when we pass away ourselves. Many of us worry whether our pets will be properly looked after when we’re no longer here. However, there are ways you can prepare for pet care after death to make sure they’re left in good hands.

What happens to a pet when its owner passes away?

If a pet owner passes away and they haven’t made any arrangements for their pets to be looked after or rehomed, the pet can end up in an animal shelter. To avoid this, it’s best to decide what you’d like to happen to your pet in advance. If there’s someone in your life who’d be happy to take them in, talk to them and put the right legal documentation in place. Or if you’d like your pet to be rehomed by an organization, make sure you’ve contacted them and expressed your wishes. 

You should include any information regarding the future care of your pet with your end-of-life documents.

4 ways to make sure your pet is taken care of

There are a few different ways to make sure your pet is cared for when you pass away.

1. Arrange emergency short-term care

Whatever your long-term pet care plans, you should also decide who will look after your pet in the short term. Animals need constant care, so someone will need to care for them immediately after you pass away. Your pet will also need care if you become very ill and unable to look after them. Make sure that whoever is looking after them during this period has all the information they need, including information about their diet, exercise, and the name of your veterinarian.

2. Leave your pet to someone in your will

Many people choose to leave their pet to someone in their will. You can also leave some money and request that the person use it to take care of your pet. However, be aware that the person isn’t legally obligated to keep and care for your pet, or to spend the money on their care — so you should choose someone you trust.

3. Create a pet trust

A pet trust is a legal mechanism you can put in place to make sure that your pet’s looked after financially when you pass away. While the laws on pet trusts vary between states, all states have passed laws allowing some form of pet trust. Generally when a pet trust is created, the designated caregiver is legally obligated to look after your pet and to use any money you place in the trust to do so. Typically, pet owners set money aside and leave instructions for things like:

  • Food
  • Veterinary treatment
  • Boarding
  • Grooming
  • End-of-life care
  • Pet cremation

4. Choose an organization to care for or rehome your pet

If there’s no one in your life who’s able to take on your pet when you’re gone, you can sign up with an animal charity that arranges pet care after the death of the owner. They will either look after your pet themselves or find a new home for them. Below are some organizations that can help you make arrangements for your pet.

If you have more than one pet, it’s usually best to arrange for them to be rehomed together. It will help them cope with your passing and provide familiarity in their new home. This can make it more difficult to find a home, as you’ll need someone who’s willing to take on more than one animal. If this is the case, one of the organizations above should be able to help.

How to rehome your pet

Each pet will have different considerations. Below we've included things to take into account for different types of pets.

Rehoming a dog

Dogs are our beloved companions, and it’s likely that you’ve thought “Who will look after my dog when I die?” Dogs typically need lots of exercise and can’t be left alone for long periods, so they need to be looked after by someone with the right lifestyle. If you’ve chosen a friend or relative to look after your dog when you pass away, you should make sure they get to know each other now to make the transition easier when the time comes. 

Rehoming a cat

While cats are more independent than dogs, it’s still important that they go to a loving home with someone who can properly care for them. An important thing to consider is the kind of environment your cat thrives in — are they a house cat or do they like to roam around outside? Are they used to the city or the country? Choosing someone who can offer the kind of home that your cat is used to can reassure you that your cat will still have a nice life after you’re gone. 

Rehoming birds, reptiles, and other animals

Some animals like reptiles and birds can live for a long time, so planning care for them is more of a long-term consideration. Tortoises, for example, can live up to 100 years, while some exotic birds like macaws can live up to 80. When planning for their care, you could set up a pet trust and assign an amount of money to cover their care for the rest of their life. You may also be able to find an adoption center that specializes in the type of animal you have, so you can ensure tailored care for them.

Having conversations about pet care after death

Any conversation about death can be hard, including when pets are involved. When it’s your own pet, you probably don’t want to think about leaving them behind. However, putting a plan in place for pet care after death can help put your mind at ease. 

If you’d like a friend or family member to take care of your pet, it’s best to talk to them about it early on. That way, you can make sure that they’re happy to take on the responsibility and have time to prepare. For help with organizing your will and other end-of-life documents, you can refer to our useful end-of-life planning guide.

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