Informal vs. Formal Arrangements
Choosing an arrangement for the future care of your pet is a decision that should be made based on your own personal preferences and the specific needs of your pet. There are several options to consider.
Generally, informal arrangements include all arrangements for the care of a pet that are not legally enforceable. They can be oral or written agreements made with family, friends, veterinarians, dog walkers, day-care/kennel staff, animal trainers or others. They can also be made with breed rescue groups and local humane groups. These arrangements usually do not involve the assistance of an attorney.
If you do decide to use an informal arrangement, it is important that you keep the following in mind:
- You should NOT assume that the caretakers you have chosen, including rescue organizations, will accept the responsibility of care. We strongly recommend that you speak with each individual and/or organization about this commitment in order to ensure they are willing and able to act as a potential guardian for your pet.
- It is best to have a few successive and/or temporary guardians in place for the future care of your pet, should the need arise. This way, if the primary guardian you’ve selected is unable to accept the responsibility at the time it arises, your pet will not be left without a home. Circumstances change, so it is always best to have a back-up plan.
- Since informal arrangements are generally unenforceable agreements made with family members or friends, you are relying entirely upon the integrity of the person or organization chosen. Thus, it is important to choose wisely!
It is possible to provide a provision for the care of your pet in your will; however, the ASPCA does not recommend this option as the only way to make a pet plan for the following reasons:
- A direction in a will only takes effect if and when the estate is administered. This can take time, particularly if there is a conflict among beneficiaries, and the provision for the care of your pet may not be implemented until the conflict is resolved.
- Once your estate is closed, if for some reason your designated caregiver does not work out, the court has no responsibility to find another home for your pet. This would be an unfortunate outcome.
A provision in your will providing funding to a future caregiver, however, can be a good way to leave money to cover your pets’ future needs as long as it is made in conjunction with an informal or formal arrangement. See our Funding Dos and Don’ts for more information.
A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of your pet in the event of your disability and/or death. For more information on pet trusts, please see our Pet Trust Primer article.
Limited Durable Power of Attorney
A limited durable power of attorney can be used to designate someone to make decisions regarding the care of your pet should you become unable. This person will only have the ability to make decisions about your pet during your lifetime. Consequently, you still need to consider a permanent arrangement for your pet’s future care.
Letter of Instruction
A Letter of Instruction can be used to designate a future caregiver for your pet and to leave specific guidelines for your pet's care when you are gone. It is a flexible way to arrange for the care of your pet but it, too, has limitations. For example, it does not have the same effect as other legal documents and if included as a supplement to a will, its implementation only takes effect upon actual administration of the estate.