What To Do With Pets When their Owner Passes Away

What To Do With Pets When their Owner Passes Away

If a pet-owning friend or loved one recently passed away, you may be faced with the question of what to do with the pets they left behind. Unfortunately, every year between 5 and 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters due to the death of their owners. Of these, approximately 3 to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats) when adequate homes cannot be found for them.

To avoid this, National Cremation recommends that “pet estate planning” be considered by all pet owners when pre-planning a cremation or devising a will.

“It’s a tragedy how many pets end up being euthanized when their owners die,” said Samantha Maiden, Service Manager of National Cremation’s Tigard, Oregon office. “Pet owners love their pets, and I think if more people knew the facts about this, pet estate planning would be a higher priority.”

If a pet owner has already died and you find yourself in the position of caring for a bereaved pet, a few simple steps can help you ensure that these pets avoid euthanasia and find a second chance for a loving home.

First, investigate whether there are any provisions made for the pets in the owners will or other arrangements that might have been set up. Studies reveal that between 12% and 27% of pet owners include pets in their wills. These provisions can be helpful in providing financially for a pet’s care over the long-term, but could be subject to delays in administering. This can leave a potential care-taker or new owner in the position of having to care for the pet out-of-pocket until the will can be read and funds distributed.

In addition to investigating whether the will provides for pets, ask family and friends if anyone is aware of any other formal or informal agreements outside of the will that might have been made for the pets’ care. If a family member or friend has agreed to or is willing to care for the pets, but no financial provisions have been made for the pets’ care, it is important to ensure that this person is able to take on the financial commitment for food, grooming, supplies, and veterinarian care that owning a pet involves.

Lastly, if no provisions have been made and no family or friends are able to step forward and care for the pet, a “no-kill” pet rescue organization such as the Humane Society – one without a time limit for rehoming the bereaved pet – can be an option to help the pet find a new home.

“It’s really important to do your research to ensure that a proper placement is found for the pet. Not all shelters are no-kill shelters,” said Maiden. “In the Portland area, there are only a few no-kill shelters. These include the Oregon Humane Society, and Oregon Dog Rescue. Most public animal shelters are not no-kill, so taking a pet there means there is a high risk that the pet will be euthanized if a home is not found quickly. Especially for older pets, it’s especially important to make sure that you choose a no-kill shelter because older pets are harder to place.”

When researching shelters or rescue organizations, your local Humane Society is a great place to start. They will likely maintain a list of all no-kill shelters in your local area. Before delivering the pet to the shelter, the pet should be clean, parasite-free, in good health, and non-aggressive to have the best chance to find a good home.  A small investment in flea drops, de-worming, and a bath can really help a pet be considered by potential new owners.

Given the high rates of euthanasia among bereaved pets, National Cremation advises that the best solution to this problem is for pet owners to plan ahead and prevent this problem from ever happening. We recommend following the Humane Society’s process for “pet estate planning.” The steps include:

  • Find a replacement caretaker and at least one backup caretaker.
  • Establish expectations and provide important information related to your pets’ care, and make it easy to find after your passing.
  • Set aside a fund to cover your pets’ expenses and make this part of your will.
  • Formalize any agreements rather than relying on informal or verbal commitments. The ASPCA Pet Protection Agreement available on LegalZoom is a good way to do this.
  • Create a trust fund for the pet, with a trustee whose role is to administer the fund and check on the pets’ care and well-being.
  • Have a plan in mind when working with an attorney to make will provisions and set up trust funds.

When making your end of life plans, make estate planning for your pets a part of the process, too. Contact National Cremation today for more information about all aspects of end of life planning. We can help you ensure that all your loved ones – even the furry ones – are in good hands after you are gone.

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Special thanks to Samantha Maiden, service manager of National Cremation Tigard/Portland, OR for her support and contributions to this post.