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Who will look after my pet when I pass away?

The only downside to being the guardian of a companion animal is that our time together is never long enough. One of the most difficult and confronting realisations is that our pets may outlive us and someone else will need to care for them.

Whatever your age, part of the ongoing care for your precious pet will involve planning who will provide for them if you pass away first. This isn’t something you should leave to chance. With such a lot to consider, read on for some advice and options that can help to make this process less stressful.

The importance of a Will

As valued family members, you should consider making provisions for your pets in your Will along with your other loved ones. Unless pets are taken on by caring family members or friends, they may be left with whoever is next of kin. This person may be indifferent to animals or not have the capacity to care for them, which could mean our pets are sent to a shelter or have to be euthanased. Sometimes these arrangements take time, so animals are left alone in their homes without company or their usual care routine and may even be reliant on neighbours. To prevent any of these scenarios, it’s important to have a clear plan in your Will for the care of your pet and to make this known to your beneficiaries.

Gifting your pet to a family member or friend

The ideal situation is that your pet would remain living in their home with a family member, but in any scenario where this isn’t possible, you will need an alternative arrangement. Considering the capacity animals have for attachment and grief, and the adjustment your pet will need to make after you are no longer around, the best option would be to rehome them with a relative or friend with who they already have a relationship. If this is someone you are close to and who has a bond with your pet, it’s then a matter of ensuring they are willing and able to take on this commitment. Many owners ‘gift’ their pet to a trusted person, and although this is an informal arrangement, they provide them with sufficient funds to cover the cost of regular care, unexpected expenses and often pet insurance.

Circumstances change over time, so it would be wise to make a list of two to three people that you trust with your pet’s welfare in case your preferred carer can no longer take on the responsibility. The ideal person for this list is someone who regards animals the same way you do, enjoys your pet’s company and would care for them in a way you would expect. It’s also important to consider whether their living situation is stable and would be in your pet’s best interests. For example, will your pet be compatible with any children or other animals in their household? Once a potential carer has agreed to take on the responsibility of caring for your pets after you’re gone, talk to them about options for your pet’s care should anything happen to you. Having that person – or people – visit your home or mind your pet on a regular basis will assist with any adjustment if they do ever need to take over permanent care.

The cost of living

Making provisions for pets in a Will is not as simple as it is for children because, although we rightly regard our companion animals as family members, by law they are considered as property rather than persons. You will need to make provisions so that sufficient funds are made available for the care and maintenance of your animals upon your passing, but as with any major financial decision, you should always talk to a lawyer or financial advisor about the best way to go about this.

Legacy programs

Another option is to choose a legacy program run by an animal welfare charity that will either find a home for your pet or care for them in a facility in return for a financial legacy. Owners need to arrange for their pet to be accepted into these programs before they die, and to alert their friends, family or legal representative to contact the charity when the time comes so the charity can take the pet into immediate care. An example of this is the RSPCA Home Ever After program, which requires a contractual agreement to be signed before your death but does not need to include a clause in your Will.

Ensuring your pet receives the care they need

Apart from choosing a long-term carer for your pet, writing your Will and setting aside any funds for your pet’s ongoing care, you will want to ensure that the person who cares for your pet is aware of what this should involve. Writing a care plan to hand over is a great idea and should be kept with your Will. The care plan should include the following information with any instructions needed to ensure your furry friend will be in safe hands:

  • Diet (including treats and any special requirements)

  • Medications

  • Preventative care

  • Health issues (including allergies)

  • Exercise routine

  • Preferred games

  • Details of veterinarian

  • Any veterinary documents (e.g. vaccination certificates)

  • Details of pet sitter or dog walker

  • Microchip number (with a note that these details will need to be updated on the register)

  • A list of your pet’s belongings (e.g. collar, leash, harness, bedding, toys, grooming equipment, food bowls, scratching posts, cat tower, carry case, crate, cage or aviary)

  • A list of words your pet is familiar with, including any ‘commands’

  • Any quirks that make your pet special

  • How your pet likes to spend their time

  • Where they sleep and preferred bedtime

  • How your pet responds to handling and affection

  • Pet insurance details (to be transferred to new carer)

  • Your preferred funeral plans for your pet

The love you and your pet have for each other might be forever, but sadly the time you have together is not. One of the most caring things we can do for our pets is to plan for the possibility that they may outlive us, so taking the time to find the best person or organisation is worth the peace of mind it brings.

Having a pet insurance policy that covers illness and injury, such as with RSPCA Pet Insurance,  can also give you peace of mind that you can claim on eligible veterinary treatment for your furry friend if they need it.