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Start the most difficult conversation American isn’t having- the conversation about our end of life preferences

Pet Plans Part 2: Protecting Animals After Death

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Pet owners should act early and responsibly by appointing a trusted caretaker to protect their animals in case of incapacity or death.

A senior citizen’s death or move to a nursing facility too often leads to abandonment for his or her dog or cat. Even the most carefully made estate, legal and medical plans frequently omit any mention of what should be done with longtime animal companions.

Shelters across the country are filled with abandoned pets – many end up stuck in a cage or euthanized.

Kim Wolf works with the Humane Society’s Pets for Life initiative. She expects the problem to get much worse as America’s massive baby boomer population ages.

“Across the country, it’s something we’re seeing more and more of,” Wolf told Life Matters Media. “More older adults and more people living longer means there’s going to be more pets living with seniors.”

Legally, pets are considered property. When someone dies, it can be difficult to prove or transfer ownership to a close friend or relative without guidance. The Humane Society recommends that pet owners stay in touch with designated caretakers and document their wishes.

“We strongly encourage everybody to think about this ahead of time,” Wolf said. “Whether it’s including a pet in a will or gathering documentation proving you even have a pet in the first place.”

She recommends seniors keep a “Pet I.D. form” in their wallet or refrigerator – a place first responders often look when searching for a person’s advance health care directive.

“It should say they have a pet, the pet’s name and who to contact in case of emergency,” she said. “If a person is hospitalized or were to pass away, people may not know that there’s even a pet at home that needs help. Having the documentation spelled out ahead of time will alert first responders and neighbors, making the whole process more smooth.”

For people without family or nearby friends, Wolf helps run the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines, Iowa, which offers a crisis foster program. She hopes similar programs emerge in other cities.

“It’s for seniors who are temporarily hospitalized, or who may find themselves recovering from an injury or surgery and don’t want to transfer ownership,” she said. “We’re able to take care of the pet as the situation evolves.”

Paperwork Matters

In emergency situations, sometimes shelters or rescue groups will take pets back if their owner can no longer provide permanent care.

“Keep in your documentation where you got your pet,” Wolf added. “People don’t know that’s an option unless it’s written out. Put that in.”

Ronette Leal McCarthy, legal counsel to Elements, the cremation company, said some states allow people to create “pet trusts.”

In Illinois, concerned pet owners may set aside funds for the care of their animals, and even designate a trustee to manage the fund for the care, support and medical needs of pets. They can also name a physical custodian.

“Companion animals are viewed as property, so guidance can be given as far as their care and even how monetarily they will be cared for,” she told LMM.

“The Illinois Pet Trust Act suggests certain things be added into this document: Who’s going to monitor the care? How’s it going to be paid for? What’s going to happen with the animals when they die? People have wishes for when their animals die, too.”

RELATED: Pet Plans: Finding New Homes When Owners Age, Die

– Image courtesy Pixabay