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Only 60% of people have an estate plan and about 7% of those who have a plan include their pets in their plan. When I ask people if they have a documented plan for their pets, more often than not, they say something like, “Oh my family knows how much I love my pets. They’ll take care of them.”

So most people are just assuming that someone in their family will take care of their pets, and yet every day thousands of family members are dropping orphaned pets off at shelters around the country and we receive calls every week from family members who can’t or don’t want to keep the pets when their owner passes away. I have even tested this with people and asked them to go back to their adult children to check and ask, “If I died tomorrow, would they take my pets?” and often they tell me they are shocked that their children tell them they could not, or would not want to take their pets. So, do you really want to risk your pets ending up in a shelter by assuming someone will take them?

The first step to putting a plan in place is to get actual verbal agreement from two different caregivers, a Primary Caregiver and a Secondary Caregiver and document that agreement in a Pet Life Care Agreement (a template for the agreement is available on our website at: When you ask someone to sign an agreement to take your pets, you will find out very quickly what they really think about taking your pets!

If you do have a documented plan for your pets, then your next steps are to figure out how to make sure all the right people know about your plan for who can care for your pets in case of an emergency, illness or death.

Here are some ideas for how you can ensure that the right people will know your pet care plan who you have designated to care for your pets.

1. File your plan with your lawyer

It is good to file all your estate plan documents with your lawyer, but there are some documents that an attorney may not keep on file and are not legally required. A pet life care agreement between you and your designated caregivers, is not legally required as part of an estate. It also may not make sense to only include it in your estate documents if that agreement can take effect prior to you actually passing away.

What is your plan if you have to go into an extended medical facility, like a rehabilitation center or an assisted living facility? And what if it takes days or weeks for someone to contact the lawyer? Who is taking your pets in the interim? These are all questions to discuss with your attorney and family or friends to ensure that there are no gaps in the care of your pets. The next item below, can help you to fill in those gaps if the right people are notified.

2. Send copies of your Pet Life Care Agreement to key people who need to know:

a. Your Designate Power of Attorney (POA)

Your Financial and Healthcare POA’s may be different people from your pet caregivers, so be sure that they have copies of your pet life care agreement to help you with contacting them in an emergency and especially if you have designated funds to go to your caregiver.

b. Your Designated Caregivers

Provide your primary and secondary caregivers with a copy of your pet life care agreement. They can use that document to show that they are authorized to take your pets in case of an emergency, illness or death.

c. Family members

Usually family members are designated as first contact in an emergency, but they may not be the caregivers you have designated for your pets. Send a copy of your pet life care agreement to your family members and make sure they know how to contact your designated caregivers.

d. Neighbors

It is often the neighbors who step in when there is an emergency and help care for pets at least until a family member or your designated caregivers are notified to pick up your pets in an emergency. Provide them with the contact information page of your pet life care agreement or you may even decide to give them a copy of your Pet Life Care Certificate, which is described below.

3. File of Life Packets & Pet Emergency Alert Cards

The file of life is a vinyl packet with a medical information for you and an emergency alert card for your pet. The refrigerator packet has a magnet on the back and the pet emergency alert card fits into the packet as well.

If fire and rescue or other first responders enter your home, and you have a file of life packet with a pet emergency alert card, not only do they know how to provide emergency care for you, they know who to contact to care for your pets.

4. Pet Life Care Certificates

A fun and practical way to let people who enter your home, know who can care for you pets is a Pet Life Care Certificate. The certificate is an 8 ½ x 11 form that can be framed and hung on your wall in a prominent place. It should identify who to contact in an emergency to care for your pets.

If your neighbors are going to care for your pets until your designated caregivers arrive, add them to the notifications on your certificate and provide them with a framed copy as well.

5. Key Document File Storage

Store all your important documents safely for someone to find and carry out your plans.

a. Paper files

1. A Fire Proof Home Security Box

Keep a copy of all your important documents in a fire proof security box at home. Include your Pet Life Care Agreement in your document storage.

2. Safe Deposit Box

You may also want to consider storing copies of important documents in a safe deposit box. If you do, be sure to let your emergency contact know and provide them with a key.

b. Online/cloud document storage

If you and your family members or other emergency contacts are tech knowledgeable, there are some simple data storage options that allow you to share documents online with other people who you trust to carry out your wishes. Here are a few to consider, from no cost options to paid data storage providers.

1. Google Docs/One Drive/Box/Dropbox

Each of these shared data systems allows you to store all of your legal documents and share them with your key people (see #2 for suggested people).

2. Legal Vault

Your attorney may provide the document storage service offered by LegalVault or similar software product. There is a cost to the service and data storage. This option is intended to provide higher levels of security for your documents.

3. Pillar

Pillar is a family-first digital platform for document storage and there is a subscription cost. Pillar offers cataloguing and organizing tools as well as fraud monitoring.

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