No one likes to think about losing a dog to old age, though we know it’s a fact of life. Even more distressing is the thought of what might happen if our dogs outlive us, and they are left alone and homeless. Many dogs end up in shelters for just this reason. We already know that older dogs can be more difficult to adopt. You will make things easier for your dog, and for you emotionally, if you plan ahead:
Ask your retirement advisor. There are numerous ways, from pet trusts to pet protection agreements, that can keep your pets happy and well taken care of after you are no longer around to do it. Forty-six states (all except Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Mississippi) have enacted pet trust laws. These laws enable a pet to be the beneficiary of the funds from a trust. Your retirement advisor will have more information regarding the specifics in your state.
Create a Pet Trust. With a pet trust, you pick a trustee (this person will manage the money you're funding the trust with) and a caregiver (this person will care for your pet); the trustee disperses funds and/or property to the caregiver who will then use them to care for the pet in the manner you've laid out in the trust. Pet trusts are typically the most expensive as you not only must fund the trust, but also must pay lawyer’s fees that can easily top $1,000. Because trusts are more expensive, both to execute and to maintain, this option works best for people who plan to leave tens of thousands of dollars or more to their pet. For more information visit www.ASPCA.org/PetTrusts.
Write out an agreement. If you don't want to set up a pet trust, identify one or more caregivers and write out an agreement that states that this person will care for your pet upon your death or inability to care for your pet yourself. The biggest advantage of this, over a pet trust, is its relative affordability (you don't have to pay an attorney to do this). Make sure you discuss this with the designated person first. You can use a standard form Pet Protection Agreement at www.LegalZoom.com. It costs between $39 and $79 —or you can draft the letter yourself, get it signed by both you and the caregiver, and get it notarized. Make sure that your vet, the caregiver, and your close family members have a copy of this agreement, so they will know who to give your dog to if something happens to you.
Talk about it. Some people know that their children or family member will take their pet because they have talked it through. While simply talking about the issue doesn’t offer you much in the way of legal protection, it is still better than doing nothing. Remember that there is no guarantee that the caregiver you talk to about this will actually take on the responsibility. So, for a few extra dollars, it might be a good idea to put your wishes in writing.
Leave information about your dog. In the case of emergency or sudden illness, make sure family members know where to find the basics: contact information for your veterinarian, any special medications or medical issues, food that your dog eats, favorite toys, and sleeping places. This information can help someone who needs to care for your dog unexpectedly make her much more comfortable, and even avoid a needless medical emergency.
You can also check out our free webinar by Amy Shever of 2nd Chance for Pets.
The Grey Muzzle Organization improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit groups nationwide.