I help people take care of their pets every day. Most people know that they have to do estate planning "someday". Most people also put it off because it is daunting to face your own mortality. So, instead, most people hope for the best and don't plan at all. But, what happens to your pets when you aren't here anymore? We hope that a family member or friend will step in and care for our pets. But hope is not a plan. For most pets, they will end up in a shelter and either be adopted by strangers or euthanized due to overcrowding. Animals don't grieve the same as humans but I have seen them grieve. When my mother was sick, her dog knew. He stayed by her side every day until she was admitted to the hospital for the last time. Her doctors allowed him to visit her on her last day. You never saw such a sad face as the face on her dog that day. He was the last reason she smiled though. She loved him dearly and he loved her. The night after she passed, he slept with me practically burying himself under me. It was as though he couldn't get close enough. My mother asked me to take care of him and I have. She also spelled it out in her will. I am happy to honor my mother and care for him. He is a great little dog.
When my dear friend and neighbor, Margaret, passed away a year later, she had a will too - but she didn't put her pet in the will. This was surprising because every time Margaret went to the hospital, she was always in a panic over her bird, Happy. She always asked me to check on him, feed him, make sure he had water, etc. I remember the last time I visited her, everything she said to me was about caring for Happy. She could barely speak but she wanted to make sure Happy had water for a bath. A couple days later, she was gone and her bird was quiet. Her family was overwhelmed with grief and details that had to be organized. Margaret's poor little bird was in the back bedroom all alone. They didn't want the responsibility of a bird. They didn't know how to care for him. They told me they planned to find him a good home. I knew what Margaret would think about all of this. But she never made a plan for her bird. I think she didn't want to think about it. If you have read my other blog about Happy, you already know that they didn't have to look far to find him a good home. He is singing again and I am learning about birds. I had nightmares for 2 nights in a row about Happy going to the wrong kind of house where he was neglected and squeezed to death until I told Margaret's family that I would take him. I haven't had another nightmare since. He has been really easy too. I am glad that I brought him home.
Both of these stories ended well for the pets luckily. My mom had a plan. Margaret didn't have an official plan but she had primed me for happy without actually saying it out loud or putting it in writing.
My house is at max capacity now though so I can't bring any more animals home.
So, what have I arranged for my own pets? Well, I had a plan set up for my border collie, Betty.
My daughter wanted my dog. She would have taken Betty from me anytime if I had let her. She used to joke about getting Betty in my will. I have always talked about the importance of making arrangements earlier rather than later so my kids are not afraid to speak of these things with me. I had updated my will around the time that I was taking my mom to the lawyer to update her will. I was not sick. I was healthy and had no reason to think that anything is going to happen to me. I think this was the perfect time to put my wishes down on paper and let my kids know what I wanted to happen "someday". But, since I set up my will a few years ago, I have another dog and a bird. My daughter has also gotten a dog and she can't have two more dogs and a bird. So I understand wanting to roll the dice and bet on staying healthy. But I know I need a better plan. I need to talk to people that I know and love and find a better solution for my pets. My first plan, of course, is to outlive these animals. But I do need to have a backup plan that I write down for my pets.
Here are a few of the other reasons that I hear from family and friends that don't have a will and what I say to them...
Here is a checklist of things to consider when doing your emergency preparation and/or estate planning:
I hope that this gives you some useful things to think about. For me, the more prepared I am, the less I worry. You don’t have to do this all at once either. Like most important tasks, you can chip away at this a little at a time. With some perseverance, you will be done before you know it and you can rest easy knowing that your pets are going to be safe.