Pet planning: What happens to your animals if something happens to you?

500,000 animals euthanized each year because there was no plan in place

(Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. – In today's busy world, you try to have a plan for everything: your work, your finances and even your death, but do you have a plan in place for your pets should something unexpected happen to you? 

If so, do your family members know what it is?

Most people assume they will outlive their pets but, every day, thousands of animals end up in shelters or worse, they are euthanized or abandoned  because something -- a debilitating accident, an illness or sudden death -- happened to their owner. 

Many people assume their loved ones will step in to care for their animals, but what happens when your friends and family have their own pets to deal with or just don't have the room or ability to take in all your animals?

That is exactly what happened to Amie Polcaro.

"I think we all know we're going to die, but nobody thinks they're going to die," Polcaro said.

Polcaro said her father used to be a Central Florida veterinarian and her mother rescued several cats and dogs during her lifetime.

Then, last Thanksgiving, Polcaro's mother died unexpectedly and her father got sick, leaving Polcaro stuck trying to figure out what to do with her parents' seven cats and two dogs.

"I just can't manage it all," Polcaro said. "I would love to keep these dogs. They are so sweet. Unfortunately, they just do not get along with other dogs. I've tried them. My brother's tried them. My aunt has tried them. They just don't get along with other pets."

Peggy Hoyt, an estate attorney in Central Florida, makes sure her clients put a plan in place for their pets.

"You wouldn't leave your kids to someone you hadn't talked to," Hoyt said. "You don't want to leave your pets to someone as a surprise. If I were to die and I was to leave you my three horses, eight dogs and three cats,  you would say, 'Gee, Peggy, thanks so much but where's the checkbook?'"

Hoyt has even written a book titled "All My Children Wear Fur Coats" that address how to set up the right pet plan for your situation. She also collaborated with a team of animal lovers from across the country and created www.MyPetWill.com.

On the website, for just under $16, you get a Smart ID tag, an online profile and legal protection and planning for your pet.

The website can also help you determine who the best legal guardian would be for your pet, whether it is a trusted adult assigned to live in your home or money left behind for a local animal sanctuary to take over the care of your pet. Hoyt also suggests putting together a pet care panel, and a backup caregiver just in case your first choice doesn't work out. 

Instead of just putting someone in charge, make sure you set up a trust to help pay for your pets’ needs.

How much should you set aside? Hoyt said to figure out how much you spend on your pets per month, and then multiply that by 12. Then multiply that by the number of years your pet is expected to live. Then, for good measure, add a few years, just in case.

While many cats and dogs can live anywhere from 10 to 20 years, pets such as parrots and tortoises can live to be 100. And what if your pet is a horse or something exotic?

"I have a family who did a pet trust for chinchillas," Hoyt said. "They have five chinchillas."

Hoyt said she creates between 30 to 50 pet trusts a year and that most of the people who request them are single with no children. 

She also practices what she preaches.

"I have a pet trust for the benefit of my pets," Hoyt said. "And it's not that I don't love my husband, or don't trust him, but things happen."

Hoyt's trust is set up for someone to live in her home and to take care of all of her dogs and cats and horses with money she has left behind. As a bonus, she said, once all her animals pass over the rainbow bridge, the caretaker will inherit the house.

Another thing to consider is getting a power of attorney who could have authority to make decisions on behalf of your pets. Hoyt said, if you don't know who to turn to in order to handle your pet's particular situation, ask a local vet or animal shelter.

Many who work at the Pet Rescue by Judy shelter in Sanford said they see pets left behind with no plan in place far too often.

"It's sad because you would think one of their kids or grandkids, knowing how much their animal meant to them, would take that last piece of their loved one," said Cheryl Zambrano, who is in charge of the cat area at Pet Rescue by Judy. "Sadly, they don't."

Zambrano said she wishes more people would considering leaving money to their local shelters, which end up bearing the cost of all the pets that are left behind. 

So, does she have a plan in place?

"Since I've seen the influx of animals coming, absolutely. I will absolutely, 100 percent put it in my will," Zambrano said. "I am putting it in place because I have three dogs. And, oh my God, who would take them? One is 85 pounds."

Palcaro said she too will be putting a pet plan in place, as soon as she figures out what to do with her parents' pets.

"I just have to find them a home where they're going to be together and be happy," Palcaro said. "Somebody's going to love them because they are awesome dogs."

Below is a list of five things to know when putting together a plan for your pets:

1. Create a notebook with all of your pet’s information. If you have multiple pets, have multiple tabs and put down absolutely everything you can think of when it comes to the care of your animals: who their vet is, what food they normally eat, what their temperament is, etc. Think of it like a list you would leave your babysitter for your kids, except in this case it is for your fur babies. Make sure a friend or family member knows where to find it.

2. Carry a wallet alert card with all of your pet’s information as well as an emergency contact and keep it behind your driver’s license. That way a first responder can find it if you are involved in an accident and can make sure your pets are not stranded at your home or left unattended for days on end.

3.  Have a frank, honest discussion with your family and friends, and find out if they are the right people to be your designated pet caregiver. Don’t forget to have a backup, just in case something happens to them. The Humane Society of the United States, The ASPCA or PetGuardian.com has information about perpetual care facilities that can help too.

4. Leave behind a pet trust that would help take care of any and all your pet needs.

5. Consider getting a power of attorney.  This person can authorize payments for your pet’s care, housing, vet bills, etc. especially should you become incapacitated for any reason. They can also carry out what you want done with your pet once they die, too. You can also consider putting together an Animal Care Panel for ongoing care supervision and other decisions related to your pet.