Guide to Pet Care After the Death of An Owner |

How to care for a pet after the owner has passed away 

A lot of people in their twilight years have pets to keep them company. Because at this age they can plan to have a pet and friend with them for ten or twenty years and be sure that their lifestyle will be in keeping with that choice. Unfortunately if we die Charlie the Poodle or Freddie the Siamese cat is left to fend for themselves. 

There is a vacuum created when someone dies. Your life had suddenly ended, that of relatives and friends is put on pause but life does carry on,. Bills need paying or settling and cancelled. Paperwork needs signing and any pets you have need feeding and caring for. If you do not make plans in advance for their care there could be a problem. 

Thousands of people do die on an annual basis without suggesting or placing in the will a mention of what should happen to their pet. Either because they died suddenly or just didn't get around to thinking about that side of life.

When I Die, What Happens To My Pets?

We don't wish to go in too much detail about what happens to animals that end up not being cared for, but homeless is the least of their worries.


Number of Pets euthanised in the US
Pets included in Wills
  • In the US the number of euthanised pets accounts for roughly 1.5 million. That's 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats. Source: ASPCA
  • In one extremely rare case, when their owners died, these dogs ate their owners bodies, as documented here
  • As of 2017, the pet population within the UK is estimated at 8.5 million dogs and 8 million cats, according to the RSPCA.
  • In the US, it is estimated between 12% and 27% of pet owners include pets in their wills, we think the actual number is much less, even in the UK.
  • In the US, as much as 100,000 to 500,000 pets are sent to rescues every year when their owners die or become unable to care for them due to poor health/old age.

When you die, you may have a Husband or Wife, Sister, Brother or Children. Do you consider that all or one of these will be able to take care of your favoured companion? You would think so but sometimes it is not possible for a Son or Daughter to take on a Dog or another pet, if they're on the move all the time for instance. On some occasions caring fora dog that reminds them of the person who has passed away might be too much to ask also.

Who Can I Choose To Look After My Pets When I Die?

When writing a will, you can name a friend or family member or several as a choice to look after you birds, fish, cats and dogs when you die. This can be handled and written in much the same way as you would leave furniture or an house. Yet as much as someone can turn down wanting the furniture, they do not have to take care of your pets just because it was requested in the will.

It is advisable that you discuss the possible situation with a family member or friend before adding their name to the will. To make sure they would be willing. Don't suggest that you might leave them a quarter of a million pounds to look after Tiddles, simply suggest you need someone to take care of him when you're gone. 

If you do not have family or friends or live alone and are cared for at home. Make a list which is visible, that inform of your wishes with regards to any pets you may have.

Using A Will To Prepare For Care For Your Pet

But some people do leave their cats millions of pounds to have them cared for, right? Yes and this is termed a bequest. If you have a pre-arranged agreement for a certain person to take care of your pets, then you can use a portion of the will termed a codicil. It's simply a supplemental cause.

A few ways of handling the formalities of this process is to have the named person made a trustee of a certain amount of money, which is then used to take care of Tiddles or Freddie. This is called a Discretionary Trust. It simply allows for a certain amount of money from your estate to be transferred to them for the care of any pets.

Unless the person you're asking has pets already they may not know what your cats and dogs get up to, or their needs. While a will is mostly for legalities, you can append a Letter of Wishes to the will. Within this letter you can transcribe the pet's diet, its activities, how it is usually treated, the name of the vet, its regime and how they should be cared for on an ongoing basis, using the funds allocated.

Tip: Don't name exact pets or names in the actual will, as you may get another cat or dog after the will is formulated.

What Happens To Pets When People Die?

I am sorry to say that it is not all good news for pets when an 'owner' or human companion dies. The less said about that the better. Which is why we urge you to consider your pet's fate, in the case you do not know yours. At several pet care charities across the UK there exists an offering called Pre-need Registration.

These are dedicated animal trusts dotted around the country who make a promise to you that your cat, dog or budgie will be cared for until they die of natural causes. Which I think is fantastic news. Most of these services are free of charge at the point of registration.

​When you die, the specified charity as laid out in your will or Letter of Wishes will be contacted to collect your companion/s. You can even make a wish that cats and dogs be kept together. Each of the following organisations will ensure that your pets are re-homed as soon as possible. if that is not possible, they will take care of them on your behalf.

​These include the RSPCAs Home for Life, The Cat's Protection League and The Dog's Trust Canine Care Card. Between these charities they have several thousand volunteers, lists of families awaiting certain pets for adoption and placement. These really are fantastic people who will do their utmost to care for your pets and will not end their life prematurely or neglect them.

One which stands out from the rest is The Cinnamon Trust which is not a rehoming charity. Any pet coming into care stays with them, permanently. Instead the pets are placed within appropriate, life long foster homes. If not they are brought to one of Cinnamon's sanctuaries. They do not charge people for the care provided. They continue to ensure the ongoing health and welfare of all pets by covering veterinary costs for the remainder of their days.

In other words, when a pet goes to The Cinnamon Trust, it is looked after, fosterers and vets stay in constant contact. If the situation changes they go back to one of their sanctuaries. Fosterers are also vetted for suitability, and are not charged for the care provided. "Every owner has peace of mind to know that we are there for their companion from the day to come into our care until their very last breath."

In return, you might consider it a nice thing to do, and leave a bequest a legacy amount to the specified charity in your will. It is not necessary, however some owners might believe that to be the least they could do to ensure pets are given the life they deserve after they have departed.

If you have any experience losing a loved one and dealing with caring for their pet, please tell us your story, as it may help someone else in the same situation, we will publish it below - Thank you. Email

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