End of life planning is nobody’s favorite part of life. Yet human animals are lucky because we can do this necessary task on our own behalf! Our animals, on the other hand, are completely dependent on us to provide for their needs and care if we should die first. Animal communicator Shannon Cutts shares tips and insights to help you begin planning for your pet’s care as part of your will and estate planning process.
“I sure hope I’ll go first!” said no pet parent, ever. We want to make sure our precious companion animals will never want for anything and we want to be by their side to make sure of it.
Yet every year, people pass and leave their pets in a uniquely scary limbo state. Why? Because pets are still largely regarded as “property” in many parts of the world and certainly here in the United States. Some pet guardians try to deal with this by straight-up leaving money to their pets in their will.
But this is also problematic and quite contestable, since pets can’t possess cash, open bank accounts or keep legal records of funds spent.
Full disclosure here: I am not a legal expert and I don’t have a great grasp of the intricacies of estate and will law. Yet I am currently working my way through these essential steps that will ensure my companion animals will be provided for if the unexpected occurs and I don’t come home one day.
Since this is all fresh on my mind, I thought it might be a good time to share it with you as well so you can make sure your animals are safe, in good hands and provided for just in case….and no matter what.
P.S. Be sure to consult an attorney well-versed in pet estate and will planning in your specific state or country. There are several ways to set up care for your pet after you pass and the wording of it all is also extremely important!
1. Name a pet executor.
Two of my three animals are on track to outlive me even if I live to be 100. Malti, my redfoot tortoise, and Io, my box turtle, need special attention because of this.
Luckily, our family’s pet executor happens to be a professional herpetologist with a large and well cared for menagerie of mammals, avians and reptiles. She is undaunted by the responsibility of finding room for at least two and potentially four more animals in her lively household.
She is mentioned by name in my will as the executor specific to Pearl, my parrot, Malti and Io. I have designated specific funds to pass to her to provide for their care.
(Our dog, Flash Gordon, is similarly provided for in my mom’s will, and you’ll only need one guess as to who is named as his executor).
It is really, really important to make sure the person you want to name as pet executor is aware and willing. Assumptions here can throw your pet’s life into chaos even beyond their loss of you, their person.
It is also smart to have a backup plan for each animal. I am still working on this part, but my intention is to identify a local pet charity that will take over my animals’ care and to ensure the charity receives funds from my estate for this purpose.
2. Designate the funds to care for each animal.
There is no doubt financial planning is a learning curve unto itself – even before the pets get involved. Whether you choose to make specific written provision in your will documents for your pet executor or put their name as beneficiary directly on one of your accounts or in some other way, it can help to first get a sense of what you actually spend per year per animal for food, supplies and veterinary care.
Then you can back into the amount you need to allocate to each pet. Once you have that number in hand, you may want to set up a separate savings account, use a savings app or designate a portion of your income to automatically invest on your pet’s behalf for future needs.
3. Draw up a pet living will.
The third key task your pets need you to complete on their behalf is to create a pet living will. Like a human living will, a pet living will outlines what (if any) extraordinary measures should be taken and how such measures will be paid for.
If you are not sure what a living will document can or should contain, you might find this template helpful.
4. Specify what to do with pet ashes or memorabilia.
This applies whether you are creating a plan for a pet who is still with you or for a pet who has already passed into spirit. You may have specific last wishes for the animals in your care now and you would like your pet executor to carry out those wishes when it is their time to go.
You may also have precious pet remains or memorabilia in your possession that will become part of your estate when you die. Consider how you would like these items to be handled after you pass and make this clear in your will.
5. Invite your animal to their own will and estate planning conversation.
The law may regard companion animals as legal property, but if you are reading these words, I am betting your vision and awareness extends far beyond this. You know and I know that we can invite our pets to participate in their own end of life and death planning and preparation.
As an interspecies animal communicator who has personal experience in the unique emotional and mental challenges of pet will and estate planning, I can support you and your pets to talk through possibilities, options and preferences.
Would your pet like to be cremated? Do they have a favorite spot they want to be buried in? I’ve had pets tell me they want their human to take some of their ashes and have them made into jewelry or artwork. Whether your pet has no preference or very specific wishes, an animal communication session is the best way to find out how to keep caring for them after you are both gone.