No one likes to think about death – their own, or that of their dog. Usually, we outlive our dogs – but what if we don’t? What happens to them?
We provide for our children in our wills, assuming that we have them. And if we do, chances are that our animal friends will find homes with them. If you have no human survivors, though, you really should give some thought to what could happen to your dog if you pre-decease him.
We’ll talk more about your will in a bit, but first let’s consider what could happen in the short term. It takes time to probate a will, and your dog will have to be cared for in the short term.
You should find one responsible person who will agree to look after your dog if something happens to you. You have probably heard or read horror stories about dogs that are found in the home days, or even weeks, after their human has taken ill or died. You will want to provide someone with keys to your house, instructions regarding your dog’s feeding and medical needs, and the phone number of your veterinarian. Also select an alternate in case your primary choice is unavailable.
You should also make sure that someone checks on you daily. Many organizations offer check-in services for seniors and people with disabilities. The way it works is, you agree to call them every day during a certain time window, say maybe between noon and 4 pm. If they do not hear from you, they will try to call you. If you do not pick up, they will send someone to your house to find out if anything is wrong. This way, you are not just looking after your own safety; you are making sure that your dog will not become the subject of one of those horrible stories.
You may have more than one dog, and want them to be placed together. Or, you may want Pugsley to go to your sister, and Joey and Montana to your best friend. You need to put this in writing. There have actually been custody wars over dogs following their human’s demise.
So, you need to make a will, and you need to keep it up to date. Your sister’s circumstances could change in such a way that she will not be able to take Pugsley, and if this happens, you will have to update your will. Your best friend could pre-decease you, and again, you will have to update your will.
Never assume that someone who has promised to take your dog if anything happens to you will actually follow through on the promise. Often, people will make promises that they never expect to have to follow through on. If they are honorable, they will, but it is always best to make sure that they understand that you are including them in your will.
“I leave everything I own to my dog, Ginger, because she loved me unconditionally. I am disinheriting my entire family because they are all jerks.” Okay, that sounds good, but it’s a great way to get your will contested, and even invalidated. Of course you want to leave money for your dog’s care, but this isn’t the way to go about it.
So, appoint an executor that you trust. If you have no one in mind to take your dog, then you will have to rely on the executor to find a suitable home, and that could mean that your dog will have to be boarded out for a while. This will cost money, so authorize the executor to use money from your estate to allow for boarding, and also for the costs of finding a new home and delivering your dog to the new home. Also specify that the executor can use funds from your estate to provide veterinary care if necessary.
Do not even think about leaving your dog to the humane society. They do not usually have the funds, or the space, to look after your dog. If your dog is old, or has behavioral issues, he may be impossible to re-home. Shelters do not want this type of bequest, even if accompanied by a monetary donation.
There are organizations that will take dogs whose owners have died, in exchange for a donation. But keep in mind that your dog has been your companion throughout his life, and he is not likely to be happy in a shelter environment. He needs another home, like the one you provided, so you should make every effort to ensure that you have someone in place who will give him one.
You can specify that your dog should be euthanized following your death, but I question this course of action. It might be appropriate in the case of an old, infirm dog, but it is simply wrong to euthanize a young, healthy, adoptable animal.
Think about what will be best for your dog, and then put everything in writing. The most air-tight wills are, of course, made with the assistance of a lawyer, but if you choose to do it yourself, one of the best ways is with Quicken Willmaker Plus. The 2016 edition is now available at Amazon at a slight discount – down to $40.11 from $49.99. It includes a book along with the software package, and the instructions and prompts will guide you easily through the process of making your will. You can customize it to fit the laws of your state, and make the best provisions for your human and dog family alike.
When it comes to ensuring that your dog is looked after if you die, take the proper precautions. Put everything in writing, in a legal will, so that your wishes are honored and nothing is left to chance.