Planning for Your Pet's Care After You're Gone – Formal vs Informal

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Planning long-term care for a beloved pet is a gift, both to your pets and to friends and/or family members involved with your estate. While it may sometimes be as easy as telling a neighbor what brand food to buy and how often a pet needs to be fed, here are a few options for pet care after you’re gone. We’ve gone over the basics in a previous article, now we’ll get into formal vs. informal arrangements.

Informal Care Arrangements

These are oral or written agreements created without the assistance or presence of an attorney. While the current trust you have with your dog walker/family friend/veterinarian/day-care staff/trainers/etc. may feel timeless, it’s important to remember these handshake agreements carry no legal weight.
Options include letters, audio or video recordings, that often include care instructions and wishes regarding issues that may pop up. It’s informality means there aren’t many rules for this kind of thing, so feel free to create your own standard.
Our site has a tool called Wishes/Instructions, which allows pet owners to easily create and deliver customized caregiver instructions to multiple people, which will help ensure the long-term health care of your pet.
Before deciding on this option, remember these three things:
Caregivers may have life events that prevent them from caring for your pet and they aren’t likely to have a plan in place to continue care.
Selecting multiple caregivers to cover for each other may cause your pet unnecessary anxiety while being moved from home to home.
Informal care arrangements are legally unenforceable, meaning your pets’ life lays in the integrity of your caregiver(s). Choose wisely.

Formal Care Arrangements

While it may seem rude to ask a friend and potential caregiver to enter into a legal contract regarding your pets’ long-term care, it’s likely to work out better for everyone. Formal arrangements, made with the assistance and/or present of an attorney, can clarify most potential disagreements or trouble situations that could arise. Clear-cut expectations for both sides will also allow for better planning from each. Here are a few options.

Will provision
There’s no better way to ensure pets will be cared for according to your wishes than including formal instructions in your will. These legally-binding documents can also be used to lessen any burden on caregivers. But there are drawbacks, so take note that:
Wills only take effect once the estate is administered, which could take weeks, months or years depending on other beneficiaries.
If your designated caregiver passes or can no longer care for your animal, no one takes on the legal responsibility for pet care, which means they will likely be euthanized.

Pet Trust
This is a legally-binding document in which the pet owner gives a designated trustee cash to hold (in trust) so they can make payments to caregiver(s) or pay for other pet needs. This can take effect upon disability or death, and does not require any other estate administration. Drawbacks include:
At least one state does no recognize pet trusts as valid.
Many states set a limit of 21 years or the animals’ death, whichever occurs first.

Limited Durable Power of Attorney

This option allows pet owners to designate a legal representative to make decisions about their pets during the owners’ lifetime, but only then. This option is most often used by those that are in long-term care before making decisions about their estate. Negatives include:
Expiration upon pet owner death.
Requires a backup legal caregiver.

Letter Of Instruction

As the fourth of the three essential estate-planning documents — your will, durable power of attorney, health care proxy — letters of instruction are best used to clarify details about pet long-term-care options. A free account with Memorialize Me allows you to write a detailed letter of interaction which will be sent upon your passing using the Wishes/Instructions tool. While informal in nature, these are usually packages containing information not in your will, including financial data, insurance information, burial preferences, personal item inventory. As before, these have limitations:
While part of a will, letters of instruction have no legal weight and are often not enforceable.
Letters of instruction only go into effect once an estate is administered, which could take days, weeks, or months.

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