Care for Your Pet After You Die

Caring for a pet after one's own passing is as easy as including them in their will.

Pet owners sometimes forget to include care for their beloved animal friends in their, otherwise carefully crafted, final wishes. This is usually a mistake that can be disastrous for the animals, as the surviving family may be at a loss as to their placement and care.


Most pet owners consider their beloved animal companions to be almost like family. (And for many people, the word “almost” is not necessary in that sentence.) But, unfortunately, pets are not at all like family when it comes to the law. So assuring your pet will be well cared for after you have passed away can be tricky. Many people do not give the matter much thought, simply assuming that friends and family will step in to save the day for their furry friends upon their faithful owner’s demise.

But those assumptions are not always safe, and stories abound on the internet of sad, frustrating cases in which pets are left to struggle for a home – some even end up homeless and cold on their city’s streets or, worse, locked up in an unattended home with no access to food for days on end. Indeed it is a sad fact that while many often plan for a pet’s death, they don’t often plan what will happen to their pets after their own passing.

To avoid a legacy of contribution to this unfortunate anthology, pet owners should take a little time in during their healthy days to assure that their pets will be well cared-for upon the death of their owner. We hope the following tips and ideas are helpful for that.

Discussing Care with Friends and Family

Leaving plans for a pet in a will should be vital to any pet parent.

The most important thing a responsible pet owner can do is to simply discuss his or her post-death intentions with friends and family. (And, friends and family of pet owners are never wrong to initiate this conversation first if need be.) It is not always the case that a formal set of legal papers need be ordered and signed to assure the continuing good care of a family pet. Simply good communication among family members is all that is ever really necessary. A good chat or two about what a family will do for pets after one of its member has died will usually go a long way toward assuring a high quality peace of mind for both humans and pets alike.

Unfortunately, though, this conversation too often is neglected. The most common cause for this is simply discomfort. The topic of death is uncomfortable, to say the least, for many families, and so the temptation is strong to just avoid the issue, to assume that matters will naturally iron themselves out.

While God does have a miraculous way of arranging such neglected matters in His favor in such cases, there is great wisdom (and goodness) in helping Him. Though we all know that God’s will can introduce discombobulated, unanticipated elements to our plans, He encourages us throughout holy scripture to prayerfully plan anyway. So, having a talk with friends and family about what to do with your pets upon your death is never a bad idea. It’s just, as we say, uncomfortable sometimes. Alas, your pets (and your family) will surely be grateful to you for overcoming that discomfort.

Leaving Pet Care Instructions in a Will

Aside from discussing the matter of care for your pets after you die with friends and family, experts in a variety of related fields uniformly recommend that you put your intentions in writing as part of your will. It is important to assure that the instructions you list in your will are simple reminders – certainly not contradictions – of what has been previously discussed and agreed to in your visits with friends and family who will be charged with carrying out the instructions. Simply clarifying your intentions will give your executor and other heirs good authority to carry out your plan. Neglecting this important step in your estate planning can sometimes create legal trouble for those who intend to enforce your intentions. The most thoroughly concocted and discussed plan for care for your pets after you die can be met with legal challenges that, in some cases, could result in pets being considered “property” of a state or city government that will have no choice – under legal authority anyway – than to assign the pets to strangers or (worse!) exercise euthanasia.

Bequeathing Directly To A Pet

Caring for a pet after one's own passing is as easy as including them in their will.

One all-to-often approach of pet owners is best avoided, experts say, if proper care is to be administered upon the owner’s death. That unfortunate tactic is to simply bequeath a significant amount of money and property directly to a pet. This approach has been famously used a time or two by people who were estranged from those who would be, normally, entitled to their fortunes. The idea of assigning, say, a mansion or even just a home, to a beloved cat may seem deliciously tantalizing to an aggrieved soul looking for a final bit of delicious revenge against family and friends who may have forsaken him. But, for the pet’s sake, it is a huge mistake, experts say.

All wills are subject to the post-death approval by a judge, and no court can reasonably assign legal ownership of large sums of money or property to an animal – especially one with no concept of what it means to own property or money.

So, such vengefulness in your Last Will and Testament will likely be disregarded. And that means that the guardianship of your beloved friend will likely be left to an aforementioned state or city government. And if the government cannot successfully manage disputes between your family members who may have wildly different ideas for how to care for the pets, the care will be left to strangers – or, as we say above, euthanasia may be employed.

Experts in the world of estate planning (and pet care) all routinely recommend that a person’s will remain free of aggressive vengefulness and simply stick to accurately recording the will of the deceased.

A Veterinarian’s Role

One final recommendation that experts commonly give to those who are concerned about the care of their pets after they die is to consult with a veterinarian. Many doctors will be happy to take on the responsibility of administering the care of an animal they have known for some time. In some cases, the veterinarian will ask for a fee for this service, but, in cases in which a family has a well-ordered, logical plan in place, the vet may offer a complimentary consultation for this. Whatever the case, experts say, it never hurts to discuss your intentions with your veterinarian, perhaps even going so far as to leave your written instructions for the pets on file in the doctor’s office.