My dogs are about as spoiled as they come. We take them on vacations to the beach and the snow, we go on weekly outdoor outings and they know if they’re sweet enough around bed time, we may just let them sleep at the end of the bed. But even we don’t have a plan for what happens to our pets if something happens to us. We love them and take care of everything for them — but who would do it if we weren’t there?

It’s an issue that came up recently. A local woman, age 53, died suddenly of a brain aneurism, leaving over 20 cats behind. Cactus Cats Rescue of Ahwatukee Foothills came to the rescue and saved as many of the cats as they had room for, but there were still some they couldn’t plan for, and even now many of the cats don’t have a permanent home.

Kristel K. Patton, a local estate planner, said while many drafters of an estate plan may leave animals out, it’s a very important question she always asks her clients right from the beginning and it’s easy enough to add to a plan.

“We like to talk about pets,” Patton said. “A lot of people just think about cats or dogs and the life span of those animals, but lots of people have birds or desert tortoises and other reptiles. We like to talk to our clients about what animals they have and through a counseling process we can gage whether or not someone wants to do a comprehensive pet trust or just want to say where the animal is going and send some money to help.”

Patton said there are many options for what to do with your pets after death and planning what happens can be very simple. Many past clients have just selected a caregiver and sent the pet to the caregiver through a trust of a will, possibly with some extra money to help take care of the pet. The most extensive plan Patton has drafted called for a caregiver to move into the client’s home once they were deceased and live rent free while they took care of the client’s animals. Once the animals had all died, the caregiver was relieved of their duties and received an extra sum of money if the pets had been cared for well.

It’s important when thinking about planning for pets to spare no detail, Patton said. Identifying marks on your animal like a microchip or specific coloring, could be important later on. If the animal has any special needs it may need special care. Is your caregiver prepared for that?

While not everyone has someone willing to take their pets, Patton says there are options. Some shelters in the past have had a program where if they are named as beneficiaries in the will they would take the pet. If the pet is adoptable they’ll keep it until it’s adopted, basically guaranteeing it won’t be put down as long as it has a chance of finding a home. If the pet came from a breeder it might be a good idea to contact the breeder about taking the animal in case of emergency.

“Some breeders of animals have clauses in their contracts that say the animal must go back to them if something happens to the owner,” Patton said. “I always encourage clients that if they have a purebred animal and have gone through something like that that they contact the breeder. If it’s a serious breeder they care where their animals are.”

Patton recommends a book by Peggy R. Hoyt, “All My Children Wear Fur Coats,” for more information on planning for pets after death.

For now, Cactus Cats could use some extra help with the cats they recently rescued. For more information on those cats and how to help, email Ahwatukee resident Denise Cote at

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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