One of the most important things you can do? Estate planning with animals in mind. One of the common reasons for animals to end up in a shelter is death of an owner.
Often, family members have tried to take in the animal, but the situation wasn't workable.
Of course nobody wants to think about it, but you really do need to plan for your animals if something should happen to you. If you have a spouse who would want to keep the family together, terrific. What if your spouse is in the same car accident/crash/natural disaster? It is wise to think this through carefully, get advice, and formalize your plans.
Think about who you would trust with your furry family members. You may want to go outside the box a bit - our fist instinct is that our extended family will care for our animals, or at least find a new home for them. If you decide to go with an "obvious" choice, you will still need to talk it through with that person and formalize the agreement (see below). Keep in mind, though - the people that seem the most obvious may travel a lot. Or have small children. Or be elderly, and incapable of the tasks necessary to care for your animal the way you would hope. Do you have office mates, neighbors, or other acquaintances who take great care of their animal? Include them on the list of possibilities! Now rank preferred possible caretakers and start from the top.
Think about exactly what you expect of the caregiver. Make a "go bag" including all the information you can possibly gather:
- food: type, brand, amount, best place to purchase
- supplements: dosage, brand, exact name, best place to purchase
- medications: dosage, frequency, what it is for, possible complications, how to administer, prescribing veterinarian
- fears: thunder, bags, gloves, hats, etc.
- favorite toys or other items, like blankies or beds
- habits: gets up at 7, gets breakfast right away. Likes to watch Gilmore Girls reruns. Hates to be brushed, but will cooperate for cilantro.
- veterinary phone numbers, pet sitter contact info, and any other numbers the caregiver may need.
- medical records
- adoption papers
A big huge binder with pockets and dividers is a great way to organize all this and make info easy to find.
We've got a start for you here - a health record book with space for all the emergency plans as well. And yes, we left some space for fun stuff too...
Get financial planning advice about how best to support your animal. There are many ways this can be done, and they all have tax implications. Your chosen caregiver will most likely need to be the beneficiary, although you can arrange to have funds delivered on a regular basis by a Trustee (with discretionary power to release more in the case of an emergency). However you do it, make sure you have an experienced financial planner involved in the decision.
The talk. This is where you start going down your list of potential caregivers and asking them if they would be willing to do this for you and your animal. It will be a little uncomfortable, but most people are honored that you would trust them with your best friend's care. Your preparation will pay off here: you will be able to show them exactly what they are signing on to, and how it will be handled financially.
You will be choosing TWO caregivers - the primary, and the backup, and they should not be from the same household. You want to make sure that if your first choice is unavailable, you have someone else lined up to step right in.
Once you have found your caregiver, it is time to head to the lawyer. You will need advice here too: how to best structure your agreement so it will be seen as valid by courts and will be executed in the way you wish. You can also ask the lawyer about drawing up an agreement between you and the caregiver.
Things that should be covered in the caregiver agreement:
- Your specific expectations about where the animal will live (NOT OUTDOORS, for instance)
- An exact plan for how you expect the animal to be treated .
- What financial support your are providing and how it should be disbursed.
Get that agreement the lawyer helped you with signed by both caregivers., and provide them with a copy of the relevant parts of your will, and your attorney's contact information. Make sure your friends and family know your plans, where to find the information, and how to contact the caregivers. You may want to designate a short-term caregiver to take over for anywhere from a few hours to a few days, until the designated permanent caregiver can get there.
WITH ALL THIS IN PLACE, you can relax and know that your best furry friend will be in a loving and responsible home. Well done, you.