Caring for the Pet of a Loved One When They Can No Longer Do So Themselves

When Melissa’s father died and her mother moved into a nursing home, Melissa adopted her parent’s poodle, Margot. During the three-hour drive to her house from where her mother was staying, Margot was shaking and afraid. Melissa stopped at the pet shop and bought Margot some of her favorite chewable steak bites and a toy, and this was what initially won Margot over.

Margot became an important part of Melissa’s daily life. Every time she spoke with her mother, she shared updates about the dog. Going through the grief and life changes that followed her father’s death, looking after the dog wasn’t complicated. By adopting Margot, Melissa found a way to help her mother and a connection to her father. The dog found a happy home with Melissa, as well. She was socialized regularly in the small dog section of the dog park and taken to visit Melissa’s mother whenever Melissa visited the nursing home.

Can Your Loved One Continue to Provide Their Pet with the Care It Needs?

Caring for animals of loved ones who can no longer care for their pet(s) can be comforting and rewarding. Sometimes, however, parents may not realize or want to acknowledge that they can no longer care for a pet as they used to. While pets provide companionship and love, they also require consistent attention and care. As our loved ones age and their mobility and memory decline, they may no longer be able to handle day-to-day care of a family pet. Families may then be faced with the difficult decisions about seeking different pet-care options, whether that’s having a family member or friend take in the pet or relinquishing the pet to a rescue group or animal shelter.

Signs It’s Time for a Senior to Seek Options for Pet Care

There can be many reasons your aging parent may no longer be able to care for their pet. The following is a list of signs your parent may need to seek alternative options for pet care:

  • The parent is moving into senior living: Not all senior living communities are pet-friendly. If it’s important for your loved one to bring their pet to senior living, make sure you confirm the communities they’re interested in allow pets.
  • The parent is neglecting their own self-care: If your parent has become forgetful in taking care of themselves, it’s a good idea to look into whether the pet seems to be receiving sufficient care.
  • The home smells like urine: If the home where the pet resides smells like urine, that’s probably a good indicator that your parent isn’t taking them out for walks, letting them out in the yard, or cleaning their litter box often enough.
  • The animal is dirty and matted: If the animal is consistently dirty and matted, this could be a sign of unintentional neglect. Your parent may not mean to neglect their pet, but forgetfulness or mobility issues may prohibit them from bathing their pet when needed.
  • The animal is losing weight: If the pet has lost a lot of weight in a short time, this may indicate that your parent may be forgetting to feed them properly. It could also be an indicator of illness. Rapid weight gain could be a sign that your parent is feeding the pet too much. Be sure to check with a veterinarian in cases of serious concern.
  • The parent has mobility issues: If your parent can’t move well without assistance, they may not be able to perform necessary tasks such as dog walking or changing the cat’s litter box.

Talking to Aging Parents about Pet Care

When your loved one can no longer care for a beloved pet, it’s important to have a conversation with them about their pet’s care. Your parent may not be aware that they’re no longer able to provide the appropriate care for their furry friend. This is why it’s important to communicate to your loved one in a patient, kind, and empathetic way. Be sure they know that you simply have theirs and their pet’s best interest at heart.

In some circumstances, seeking pet-care assistance may be a sufficient option, especially if your parent still has some independence and only needs help with certain tasks while aging at home. But, it’s still important to plan for the long term. If you are able and willing to take your loved one’s pet in, convey that to your parent. This may give them the peace of mind that their beloved pet will be in good hands with a loving member of the family.

It’s important to plan ahead, even if your parent decides to keep their pet for now. Have an honest conversation with your loved one about the future and what they hope for their pet when they’re no longer able to provide care. This way, the most ideal options can be determined in advance and indicated in estate planning documents.

Estate Planning to Ensure Your Loved One’s Pet Is Well Loved

Where would your pets go if something happened to you? Who would take care of them, and how would their costs be covered? Much like planning for minor children, before any of the financial considerations are addressed, you have to feel comfortable with the selection of your caregiver, so be sure to talk to them ahead of time. The considerations below are important when creating a plan to ensure your pets will be properly cared for when you are unable to do so yourself. The answer to these questions should be among the things you should indicate in your Pet Trust, if you choose to have one, and/or estate planning documents.

  • Do any of your pets have unique care requirements (i.e., health concerns, unusual behaviors, etc.) that require special planning?
  • Who will be responsible for providing daily care?
  • Where do you want your pets to live — at your home, with a friend or loved one, or at a sanctuary?
  • What financial resources will you provide to ensure your pets are adequately provided for?
  • Who will be responsible for the oversight and administration of the assets left for the benefit of your pets?

Consider how much money would be enough for pet care. Think about how much you spend to care for your pets now. Do the math for how long that breed usually lives (adding a few years, in case your pet hopefully lives a longer life), and then add a little more to provide a cushion in the event your pet has an unusually expensive illness.

Planning for your pets is an important part of your comprehensive estate plan. Your pets can’t take care of themselves, and they rely on you for everything. Be sure to give careful consideration to the needs of your pets as you think about the best way to provide for their lifetime care. Many of us who think of our pets as family members want to ensure that they are cared for after we become incapable of doing so. One way to fulfill this responsibility and have peace of mind is to plan ahead.

Estate Planning Is Important for Everyone

Here at the Farr Law Firm, we assist people every day in helping them plan for themselves and their loved ones, including their beloved pets. By planning in advance, each person can retain the assets it has taken a lifetime to accumulate and the peace of mind that their family’s needs will be adequately and properly addressed. If you or members of your family have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-term Care Planning, or if a loved one is beginning to need more care than you can handle, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment:

Estate Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Estate Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Estate Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041
Estate Planning DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.