How to Care for Pets When You Can’t

Table of Contents:

  1. Planning for Short-Term Pet Care
  2. Planning for Long-Term Pet Care
  3. Do You Need Help Today?

Seniors take precautions to ensure their loved ones are taken care of after they’re gone. They purchase life insurance and make careful arrangements to manage end-of-life expenses and keep their spouses and children financially stable.

Pets are loved ones, too. They may even depend on us for more than other “dependents.” As senior pet owners age, it’s important to keep the family cat or dog in mind. Planning for illness, injury, and death will help make sure they never go without the care and affection they need.

Planning for Short-Term Pet Care

Injuries and illnesses don’t work around your schedule. These unexpected events can leave you unable to provide pet care for days, weeks, or even months. That’s why it’s so important to identify friends or family members who can provide support on short notice.

Remember, your absence (even if it’s just for a few days) can make your pet stressed and overwhelmed. You should select a short-term caretaker that puts your pet at ease and, ideally, is already familiar with the basics of their routine.

Not every injury will fully incapacitate you, but it’s vital to plan for that possibility. Take care to prepare detailed instructions for short-term care encompassing everything from meal schedules to medications. Be as thorough as you possibly can to eliminate guesswork and make your caretaker’s job as low-stress as possible.

Planning for Long-Term Care

Most of us treat our pets like friends or members of the family. While our cats and dogs certainly appreciate the extra affection, it can obscure a key fact. In the eyes of the law, pets are ultimately property. That means you can’t simply leave them money in your will — even if they’d know what to do with it. There are, however, several options for providing care after you’ve passed away. These include:


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Naming a new owner in your will.

It’s not enough that your friend or relative promised they’d take care of your pet. You’ve got to get it in writing. For many senior pet owners, this can be an especially challenging part of estate planning. After all, pets grow accustomed to specific settings and routines. Both you and your pet should know and trust this person.

Trust is everything when it comes to selecting a new guardian. Even if you name one in your will, and even if you leave them a lot of money, they are not legally obligated to provide care for your pet or use that money as instructed. Don’t make this decision lightly!

Establishing a pet trust to guarantee care.

If you’re unsure of who to trust with your pet, a pet trust might be a better option. Unlike a stipulation in your will, a pet trust creates a legal obligation.

Trust documents name a new guardian (or guardians), provide instructions for long-term care, and devote funds to cover that care. Upon your death, the trustees you’ve selected will receive those funds and take ownership of your pet. They will have to follow your instructions for spending that money and administering care.

Another benefit of trusts is their immediacy. Wills can get stuck in probate court for extended periods, leaving your pet without necessary care. Trusts go into effect as soon as you’ve passed away.

Leaving your pet to a charitable organization.

It’s tough to find trusted caregivers, but it can be just as tough to find charitable organizations capable of providing indefinite pet care. Most humane societies and similar organizations simply do not have the resources to accept every pet. While some programs have recently emerged, they typically require a large donation to provide lifetime care. Kansas State University’s Perpetual Pet Care Program, for example, asks for at least $25,000 per pet.

Do You Need Help Today?

Many seniors gradually learn that it’s difficult to care for their pets. Despite their best intentions, they leave pets under-groomed, under-fed, and occasionally skip trips to the vet. These pets don’t necessarily need a brand new home, but they definitely need extra care. Intervene as early as possible to ensure they don’t go without.