How to Make an Advance Health Care Directive for Pets
By Casey Kelly-BartonOctober 19, 2018
Who will care for your parents’ pets if they move into senior living care or pass away? Without a plan for who will take in the pets and where the money will come from to care for them, many seniors’ pets end up surrendered to shelters, where there’s no guarantee they will find a new home.
Learn more about how to make an advance health care directive for pets now to ensure that they continue to get the care they need in the future.
3 Steps to Take to Make an Advance Health Care Directive for Pets
Pet rescue groups are often tasked with saving seniors’ pets after they pass, so I asked my fellow volunteer fosters with Lucky Lab Rescue and Adoption what they recommend.
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Here are their tips to make sure your folks’ companion animals get good care and a loving home even if you can’t take them in:
1. Have the pet-care planning discussion.
Ask your parents about what they want to happen if their pets outlive them. It’s easy for any of us to assume that our loved ones will care for our pets if we can’t, but not every family member can take on that role and not everyone wants to.
“I made my plan… after I had been fostering dogs for a few years and some of them had become homeless when their owners died,” said Lucky Lab volunteer Rona Distenfeld. “I had a near-death experience a few years back and was very concerned about what would happen to the dog I had then.”
There’s also the issue of money. Whoever takes in your parents’ cat or dog will be looking at a minimum of several hundred dollars a year for food, flea and tick medications, grooming, regular veterinary care and supplies like cat litter. Major illnesses can lead to thousands of dollars in vet bills. Can your parents’ designated pet adopter afford that or will your folks need to set aside money in their will for pet care?
Illnesses can create a pet-care crisis, too. One Lucky Lab volunteer who works in home health told me, “I see patients every day in the hospitals who had to leave their pets and are desperate for someone to go by.” One way to avoid that kind of stress is to line up one or two trusted volunteers now to help in case of emergency. You can also work with a reputable pet-sitting business to arrange in advance for emergency help.
2. Start to build a pet-care plan.
Heather May has helped many families make arrangements for their pets during her 15 years as an estate-planning attorney. She’s also a Lucky Lab volunteer who recommends that families answer all these questions as part of the pet-care planning process:
How much money do you want to set aside for your pets’ care?
What are your wishes for when your pets die?
What do you want to happen if your pets get sick?
What specific care do you want for your pets?
Where do you want any remaining funds to go after your pets die?
Where will the money set aside for your pets come from? Investments, real estate proceeds, savings, insurance, or another source?
Who do you trust to care for your pets? Who would take over if that person could no longer care for your pets?
Who do you trust to make good financial decisions for your pets? Who would take over if something happened to this person?
Would those two people work together or do you feel comfortable with one person handling care and money for your pets?
Amy Gelfand and her husband Aaron, who foster dogs and have pets of their own, worked out a more complex plan because their relatives have pet allergies. “We are setting aside money for the boarding and care of our pets now and in the event we can’t care for them anymore, a rescue will be contacted to take them into their custody. They will use our money to pay for board and care until the pets get adopted or pass away, then the remainder is a donation to them.”
3. Start to put the pet-care plan in writing.
May, the attorney, often creates pet care directives as part of clients’ estate planning, whether that’s a simple will or more complicated trust. She said the process can take anywhere from a week to a few months to do a full plan including pet planning, depending on how large and complex the estate is.
Although you can find printable pet care directives online, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced lawyer to make sure your parents’ wishes are properly written, to avoid confusion and conflict later on and to give them peace of mind now that their pets are provided for.