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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pets in Retirement

Pets are lovable sources of companionship at any age. For many of your clients, their pets truly are a part of the family and in some cases, these furry friends may have a higher ranking than other family members.

As clients enter into retirement, their pet may be getting older with a life expectancy much shorter than the owners. A common mistake made by retirees is immediately replacing “Muffin”, “Mittens” or “Buster” without carefully evaluating the impact of the decision on their retirement plan. Consider a client who plans to travel, volunteer and have hobbies outside of the home. They now have a new pet – possibly a kitten or puppy – and are limited to out-of-home activities because of the need to care for the animal. As the pet grows, there may be a difficulty in leaving it for weeks at a time, especially when traveling or going on vacation.

More often than not, family and friends are reluctant to look after your client’s pet especially for long periods of time. The costs of kennelling can be high, not to mention the emotional aspects of leaving the pet in a strange place. If a client plans on taking their pet with them when traveling, he or she may experience many hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts that do not allow them.

Part of Miranda and Nelson’s retirement plan was to take a major trip once a year. Spice, their Irish Setter, was considered an importance part of their family. When they traveled, their neighbor kindly took care of Spice.

Just prior to Miranda and Nelson’s retirement, Spice passed away from old age. Devastated and struggling to cope with their loss, Miranda and Nelson rushed out and bought a new dog – an Australian Sheep dog named Tucker. For the next three months, Miranda and Nelson were housebound caring for their new pet.

Comfortable with Tucker’s development and training, Miranda and Nelson planned a trip to Greece. In the planning they assumed their neighbor would care for Tucker. After finalizing plans and booking their tickets, they approached the neighbor and were told regrettably ‘no’ as they had plans of their own.

Prior to leaving for Greece, Tucker was placed in a kennel. Though they knew he would receive good care, Miranda and Nelson worried so much about Tucker’s stay in a strange place that a lot of the enjoyment of Greece was lost and they regretted their decision to get another animal.

If a client currently owns a pet, there will come a time when your client will face its passing. Prior to this happening, encourage your client to take time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of obtaining another pet. Have your client discuss their future retirement plans and whether pet ownership is part of them. It is important to seriously consider the ramifications and commitment of owning another pet.

On the flip side, what happens to the pet if your client is incapacitated or hospitalized. As a pet owner, encourage your client to have a plan for the care of their pet. This may include arranging for short-term care by a friend or relative or short-term care at a shelter or charitable organization.

As with all aspects of retirement, the ownership and care of pets requires a lot of discussion and planning. Clients shouldn’t rush into anything. Try to have your clients remove emotion from the decision process and think about the impact, both positive and negative, a pet will have on their retirement.


Richard (Rick) Atkinson, Founder and President of RA Retirement Advisors, is an expert in pre-retirement planning. He is author of the best-selling book, Don’t Just Retire – Live It, Love It! Rick facilitates workshops for clients of advisors and others. He is available for speaking engagements. Twitter: @dontjustretire.