Ask Joyce: Who Will Care For My Pets When I Die?

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on April 1, 2009

ALDF’s "Ask Joyce" column appears in each issue of The Animals’ Advocate, ALDF’s quarterly publication.

Dear Joyce,
I’m worried about who will care for my cats, Bob and Alice, when I die. My family is gone, and I have no friends who can take care of them. What do I do?

Dear Reader,
It’s time for some planning. In a previous Ask Joyce column, I addressed the subject of creating a trust for your companion animal. Today, let’s focus on the actual day-to-day care of Bob and Alice when you can’t be physically present for them–for example, if you have to be hospitalized for some reason, or if you die without a will (which I hope you will not do!), or even if you have provided for Bob and Alice in your will but didn’t prepare instructions for their care during the period of time between when you die and when your will is admitted to probate.

First and foremost, there has to be some other human being who will take physical custody of Bob and Alice, even on a temporary basis. This could be a neighbor you trust or your veterinarian. Or, start hanging out at the local dog park and get to know the dogs owners, volunteer at the library, join a club or a church–make contact with caring humans and, for Bob and Alice’s sake, form a relationship to help you plan for their future. Develop a very specific set of written instructions about all aspects of your cats’ care: their names, physical descriptions, ages, temperaments, foods and feeding times, medications, special needs, identification of veterinarians and health records, everything that the caregiver would need. If the caregiver is not willing to take permanent custody of Bob and Alice, ask if they are willing to place them into a good permanent home and describe what sort of home you want for them.

If you cannot find an individual caregiver, you may want to contact a humane society or nonprofit animal protection group to provide care for your cats. Do research on the internet. Then, take great care to visit the facility and find out what the care is going to be like; avoid a situation in which there is overcrowding, or your cats will be confined to a cage for long periods of time. I do not recommend having your cats killed when you die–there are far better solutions, and they deserve a chance at a new, loving home.

There is a lot to think through to protect Bob and Alice–a will, a durable power of attorney, a trust and the actual hands on care. You can also read "Including Animals in Your Will" for more information on this subject.

Best regards,

2 thoughts on “Ask Joyce: Who Will Care For My Pets When I Die?

  1. Sarahkate Moore says:

    I cannot believe you actually told this woman who is worried about her CATS to go make friends at the DOG PARK.

    FYI if she is unable to make personal connections she might wish to contact the UC Davis Vet School which has a program to care for companion animals under a sort of quasi-trust situation if the owner passes.

    Any of the cat rescue organizations can also help this very worried elderly lady and even refer her to attorneys in her geographic area who are familiar with setting up pet trusts or even simple letters of instruction to go with estate planning documents.

    ALDF you should be more aware of what is out there if you propose helping others in a public forum like this one.

  2. Dear Sarahkate,
    Your ideas are good ones and I’m glad you added them to mine. Perhaps, I should have been more direct: the biggest problem we face with many of the people who ask about how to provide for their companion animals is that those people have isolated themselves. They tell us that they don’t have friends or family; there is no one they can trust. That can spell disaster for the animals who are left behind. My “go to the dog park” comment was intended to get her out of her house and to a friendly place that exists in many communities in the U.S. She can enjoy watching people and animals interacting and perhaps, she will feel that she has enough in common with those people to make a couple of friends. Since when is loving cats exclusive?! I live with and love both dogs and cats, as do many other people. At the dog park, she may well meet some like-minded people who can help her with her planning for her cats.

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