How to plan for your pet's death

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How to plan for your pet's death

A pet can be a wonderful companion. But unless we're talking about a turtle, your pet probably won't be a lifetime companion. We generally outlive our pets.

While pet owners know all about the cost of owning a pet, from food to toys to veterinary bills, your pet's death comes with its own expenses. Pet owners can face hundreds of dollars in bills when their furry friends die. It may be morbid to think about, but it's a good idea to prepare for this eventuality.

What do you do when your pet dies?

If a pet gets old or sick enough, owners may have to decide to euthanize them. Most veterinarians will provide owners with options depending on a pet's diagnosis and how it will affect their quality of life, said Kate Kaiser, veterinary services manager for Crum & Forster Pet Insurance Group.

Pet owners have to decide what to do with the body when their pet dies. The most common options are burial, either at home or in a cemetery, or cremation. It's best to decide before your pet is on the verge of death, which can be an emotionally difficult time, said Donna Shugart-Bethune, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories.

"The sooner you make those decisions and have a plan in place the better it is for the family," Shugart-Bethune said.

How much do these options cost?

Euthanasia prices vary from veterinarian to veterinarian. Local humane societies, like Humane Pennsylvania for example, can euthanize cats and dogs for as little as $50. Some owners may prefer to have their pets euthanized at home, which can cost more. Pet Loss at Home, a nationwide home euthanasia service, offers packages starting at $300.

Burial costs vary as well. The least expensive option is burial at home, Shugart-Bethune said. However, local laws may restrict whether pets can be buried on certain properties.

Pet cemeteries provide a perpetually maintained burial space, but usually at a higher cost than cremation because of ongoing fees to take care of the grave. The burial itself can increase in cost depending on how elaborate it is. Owners can spring for a casket, which can include a vault to prevent damage from water and other elements, and a marker, ranging from a flat plaque with the pet's name to an upright gravestone.

Cremation generally costs less as well, but can also range in price depending on whether pet owners want a viewing or service, Shugart-Bethune said. An urn or other memorial keepsake can also increase the cost.

Cremation costs depend on the size of the pet, from around less than $100 up to $245, according to prices posted on a Missouri pet cemetery website. Burials usually start around $500, with hundreds more in costs for caskets, internment fees, committal services and preparing the body.

Can pet insurance help?

Pet insurance can sometimes cover end-of-life services. Crum & Forster, which provides pet insurance for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, covers euthanasia and body disposal — though pet owners should read their policies and speak to their brokers to be sure their situation is covered, Kaiser said. Pet owners should make sure their policy is in effect and the particular services they seek are covered by that policy. (You can compare pet insurance policies on Policygenius.)

How do pet owners start preparing?

Many burial and cemetery services allow pet owners to arrange to pre-pay for death services.

"You can set up arrangements, go ahead and make your decisions and make payments toward those arrangements," often on a monthly basis, Shugart-Bethune said. This allows pet owners to lock in prices at today's rates and get certainty on the cost ahead of time.

Pet owners can look for a so-called "after-care service" on iaopc.com, the website for the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories. The site includes a member directory. You should look for a provider who allows you to view your pet's body before cremation and burial and be present during either process.

A provider should also disclose its pet identification and tracking process to help ensure it can accurately identify your pet throughout the cremation process, Shugart-Bethune said. For burials, pet owners should work with cemeteries who have a deed restriction on their property and a perpetual care fund, which allow the cemetery to continually maintain the burial sites. A good provider should also have resources for grief counseling and education, Shugart-Bethune added.

And in case you don't outlive your pet, you should let your family know your plans for your pet's death, Shugart-Bethune said.

Image: Anchiy