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Planning for Your Own Passing; What Happens to your Pet?

Don't leave it up to family or friends to decide the future of your furchild after you're gone.

No one wants to think about their own mortality. Thanks to COVID, most of us just spent more time than we ever anticipated dwelling on the subject. But what about after? Have you set your final wishes in order? Does your family know what you want done with your property, your online presence, or your remains? Maybe you're of the opinion that once you're gone, the aftermath is someone else's problem.

But what about your pets? Every year, hundreds of pets are left orphaned due to their owner's passing. While some will be adopted by family or close friends, others are left in limbo and sent to shelters. Sometimes, spouses left behind will be unable to care for pets, or immediate family may be unable to take them in due to distance or living situations. Or, in the case of one of our trainers who recently lost her mom, family members may disagree on who gets the dog.

"My sister wants to keep him but her health and life isn't exactly fit for a dog ," April explains. "He is 9 months old, so he's very hyper. Because of [my sister's] health issues, she doesn't have the strength or stamina to take him outside to play... he is now becoming destructive and peeing and pooping in the house. This is causing a lot of strain as my sister feels she is perfectly fit to handle the dog, and doesn't like to listen to what I have to tell her. The rest of my family - except for my husband - wants me to take the dog."

Obviously, no one knows exactly when we will leave this world, but April wishes her mom had at least made it known somehow what she would prefer happen to her dog if she should pass.

"If she would have said I [April] take the dog, my sister would have respected that rather than fight us all on it... or even if she said for us to give the dog to someone else, my family would have followed those wishes."

But how do you make sure your last wishes are known? The first method would be to include your pets in your Last Will and Testament. Since pets are considered property, you can't directly leave money or other property to them. You can, however, designate a caregiver and leave money and doggy items to that caregiver. You will want to talk to that caregiver ahead of time to make sure they're on board with the plan, and be sure to leave some type of documentation behind with care instructions for them, as well as some funds to assist with that task. It's also not a bad idea to have a backup caregiver or organization planned in the event your first choice is unavailable.

To a lot of people though, drawing up a formal Last Will and Testament is a daunting task, or in some cases just not possible, as Pip's mom found out.

"I didn't have a Will or any kind of planning document before COVID, but I decided that I better have something in place just in case I got sick. First, I called a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, but because of COVID he couldn't meet with me. He told me he couldn't really do anything until the pandemic had passed." Marsha explained. "Then I heard about this book: 'I'm Dead, Now What?' It has a whole section in it about pets. It has all of his information, his age, veterinarian, etc."

The book Marsha found is an end of life planner that helps users record their wishes and affairs to make things easier for their loved ones once they're gone. While there are many similar journals like it, Marsha is pretty impressed with hers.

"It's a really great book. It covers every aspect of a person's life; includes all of your bills, all of your accounts, passwords, etc. The trick is to keep it updated. But anything anyone would need to know if I passed away is in that book."

She mentions that the pet section was particularly helpful in working out what Pip would need if he outlived her.

"One of the lines says 'Who will care for my pet?' That [made me think] about where Pip would probably be happiest if he couldn't be with me. Which led me to [his dog sitter]. This book also has [her] name, address, phone number, and instructions to give [her] a dollar amount to provide for his food, medical care, etc. I also have a backup person in case she is unable to take him in, and I let his vet know that they can share his medical information with [them]."

Marsha knew that her son, who lives in a different state, would not be a good fit if Pip needed a home, and while another family member said she would happily take him in, Pip does not know her very well. Instead, Marsha called up a friend who cares for Pip whenever she is out of town, and asked if she'd be willing to take him in if it were ever needed. While this was clearly the right choice - Pip is already familiar with her home and other dog, knows her well, and she knows his daily routines and health conditions - Marsha's family would never have known to call the sitter without these written instructions. Pip's transition, should the unthinkable happen, might have been rockier than necessary without his mom's forethought.

One more, important detail about the planner journal: "The last page of this book is a notarized signature page which makes it a legal document," Marsha pointed out.

Whether you choose the formal Will, or a planner journal like Pip's mom, it's never too early to lay out your wishes. Accidents and diseases happen, and while you may not have to deal with the aftermath yourself, planning ahead can make life after your death much easier for the little souls in your care. As Marsha puts it: "One thing that has always tugged at my heart is when an owner dies and the pets are left with nowhere to go. This way at least I have confidence that my guy will be well cared for if something ever happened to me."

If you'd like to get your hands on the same journal Pip's mama used, you can find it here -

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