Don’t omit pets from estate planning

Sally was 82 years old when she died in her home. She lived alone with her 12-year-old dog and 11-year-old cat who she considered her family. She had not made arrangements for her pets in case of her incapacity or death. After she passed away, no one came forward to provide care for her pets. Unfortunately, they were brought to the shelter where they faced an uncertain future as it is difficult to find homes for senior pets.

John’s niece didn’t even know he had a cat, let alone two. When she came to pick up his belongings, she was stunned to find the felines hungry and afraid in the home. No family member was in a position to take them in. The cats quickly found themselves displaced at the shelter. The two littermates were placed up for adoption, but were separated into different homes even though they lived with each other their whole lives.

Marva’s beloved dog was taken to the shelter when she was taken to the hospital. Her family wanted to come get her dog, but faced a road block because they didn’t have a document stating they were the dog’s guardians. They needed to get a power of attorney, written permission or a death certificate showing them as next of kin before the dog was able to be released.

Sadly, all of the above scenarios are common occurrences when seniors have pets and have not incorporated them in their estate or emergency planning. Like your property and your children, it’s very important to add your pets to your estate plans to ensure their safety and that your wishes for their continued care are honored. Last week I went to an estate planning seminar and was very surprised that pets were not mentioned. Everything else was– homes, children, even guns— but not pets. Of course, I raised my hand and reminded everyone to not forget four-legged companions in their planning. I was greeted with stunned faces and a ton of nodding heads. It was as if a lightbulb went off in their brains saying, “of course, how can we forget our pets?” Afterwards, multiple people came over to ask more questions about ways to protect their pets. Job well done, I thought.

Consider the following when planning for your family’s future:

•Speak to an attorney about creating a formal document to make sure your pets are included in your plan.•Consider a pet trust or other document drawn up by a professional that will outline your exact wishes and goals for your pet.•Name a guardian for your pet and provide a written document to any caregiver with clear instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.•Make sure your documents are in a place where they are visible, known and accessible.•Hang a note on your refrigerator to notify first responders who to contact regarding your pets or where to find your documents.•Check the local animal control in the area where the individual lived to find out where an animal might have been moved for sheltering.

There are other ways to ensure animals in the community are taken care of after losing an owner. If helping animals in your community is important to you, you might consider a planned gift to an animal organization of your choice. Whether the gift is designated in your will or trust, life insurance policy, retirement plans, or other option, an attorney can help you decide how to dedicate funds to make a difference. What a wonderful way to celebrate your legacy.

The Pasadena Humane Society encourages you to become part of our Legacy Society, a group of individuals who have made provisions in their estate plan. As a member, you get special invitations to events, recognition in the annual report and on a digital donor wall, along with a pin and a discount in the shelter shop.

To learn more about including your companion animals in your estate plan, consider coming to the Your Legacy and Your Pet Seminar held on Thursday, October 19 from 6pm to 7pm at the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA. You’ll find more information at

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