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Julie and Joseph Walker* were happy in their retirement living with their cat Hopper. While Julie was suffering from mild dementia, Joseph was taking care of her and Hopper had a way of knowing when he needed to climb into her lap and comfort her. It seemed to help her to pet Hopper and Hopper seemed to know that.


Suddenly, one day, Joseph suffered from a heart attack and passed away. Julie was distraught and she became disoriented, and at times not even remembering that Joseph was gone. Their son, Charlie and his wife Lisa live in Virginia so they made the trip to Florida to plan Joseph’s funeral and finalize his estate. Julie was in a state where she needed to go into a nursing care facility so they made the difficult decision to admit her to a facility.

This left Hopper, who was only 7 years old, as a homeless cat. Charlie and Julie already have 3 cats and some of them have medical issues and they felt they could not take on another cat.


They reached out to Perpetual Care for help to find a new home for Hopper. When we spoke to Charlie. and Lisa, we asked if his parents had set up an estate plan that included Hopper. It was no surprise to us that they said, “No, we never even talked about it.” If we could ask Julie and Joseph what they expected would happen if they both passed away, they would most likely give the answer we hear all the time when we talk with people about estate planning for their pets, “Oh, we’re not worried, our son Charlie knows how much we love Hopper and he loves cats, so he will take in Hopper and take good care of him.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that every day orphaned family pets are turned into shelters because their owner has passed away or entered a nursing care facility.


The Best Friends Animal Society data base estimates that 10.1% of animals going into a shelter, are taken there due to death or health issues with the pet owner(s) ( They also estimate that 4.3 million pets enter a shelter each year. That means that about 434,200 orphaned pets enter shelters due to their owner no longer able to take care of them because of death or disability.

It gets even more complicated now because traditional municipal animal shelters are going “no kill” so they stop taking in pets when they are full. So if you can’t take the pet(s) and the shelter can’t or won’t take in the pets, what alternatives do you have? That’s why it’s so important to have a DOCUMENTED PLAN or LIFE CARE AGREEMENT for your pets.


1. Have a conversation with the family members or friends who you think, or hope will take your pets if anything should happen to you.

2. Sometimes people will say they are willing to take your pets, but be sure to explain that you will have them sign an agreement to document the decision.

3. Download our Pet Life Care Agreement template and modify it to include your own pet’s information and your primary and secondary caregivers. (We recommend you have 2 caregivers designated just in case your primary caregiver cannot take your pets.)

4. You may choose to have an Attorney review your agreement since laws vary from state to state.

5. Get together with your caregivers and have a signing ceremony where you all sign the agreement in front of a notary public. Afterwards, go out to dinner and celebrate!

6. If you have estate documents already filed with an attorney, provide your attorney with a copy of your pet life care agreement. Also, keep a copy of the agreement with your other important documents at home and provide each of your caregivers with a copy.

7. Use our File of Life Packets to document who your caregivers are and put it up on your refrigerator or some clearly visible place. This will help emergency care providers to know who to contact to take care of your pets in an emergency.

8. Share the word with other pet owners and help them protect their pets.

*Names were changed

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