The Valley Reporter – Pet estate planning: What happens when pet owners die?

Most pet owners are very aware of their beloved friend’s dependence on them and worry about what will happen to them when they die. Others may experience the death of a pet-owning relative or family member who had no plans for their animals.

If a relative or close friend dies and has no plans for a pet, see if a friend or family member can temporarily foster the pet. Consider having a pet if a close friend or family member can take on the responsibility. If no one can be found to adopt the pet, consider putting information on a memorial site for the bereaved in hopes that friends/family will know the pet is up for adoption.

Another option is to contact local veterinarians or consider sites like and to post pets and let the community know about pet adoptions.

As a last resort, contact a local shelter. Right now, shelters are full of animals that need homes, so they don’t have room. Be aware that not all shelters are ‘no-kill’ shelters, and every year millions of animals, especially older animals, are not adopted out.

How can people plan for their animals in the event of death? Talk to friends and family and line up at least one emergency sitter who is responsible and able to take care of the pet for a few days. They won’t necessarily give the pet a forever home, but they will care for the pet until a foster or permanent home can be found.

Make sure these emergency caregivers have pet feeding and care instructions, contact information for a veterinarian, and a house key. Make sure loved ones have contact information available for emergency caregivers.

Consider establishing a pet trust as part of estate planning. A pet trust is a legal agreement that provides for the care of a pet when the owner dies. A trust can set aside money for the care of pets and appoint a trustee to manage the trust according to the wishes of the deceased. An attorney can help with the details.

For more information on planning ahead for pets, visit the Pet Endowment Trust at

Shaw is a member of the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA), a professional organization of 380 veterinarians dedicated to compassionate animal care and quality medicine.

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