According to the Humane Society, as many as 500,000 pets end up in a shelter every year because their owners die. While we typically expect to outlive our pets, it doesn’t always happen that way. If you or a loved one is advanced in years and a pet owner, there needs to be a plan in place for the four-legged friend. To make sure pets are taken care of, there are a few options.

Last Will and Testament

Including the pet’s name in the will is a good start, but it’s best to actually name a caregiver to be sure. Pets are treated like any other piece of property when we die, and will be included in any asset division. However, since pets hold more value than a TV, designating someone in the will who is willing to care for the pet is a best practice.

Pet Trust

Setting up a free-standing traditional pet trust will allow pet owners to specify care standards and provide money for the pets. This legal document can be in effect for up to 21 years or until the pet dies. This method is a bit more complicated and will require the help of an attorney.

Pet Protection Agreement

If you know who will be taking care of the pet after you pass, you can create a pet protection agreement. This will clearly name the new guardian, outline care instructions, provide money for care, and allow for a smooth transition. Without something like this in place, it can take months for a judge to rule on where the pet will end up.

Although pets feel like part of the family, they are legally treated as property and need to be accounted for in your final wishes. No matter what method you use, it’s important to make sure your pet will be taken care of.