Estate Planning for Your Pets

James M. Weaver, PA

Pets are members of your family. You adopted them, have cared for them, and want to make sure they are loved. Do you know who will take care of your pet if you pass unexpectedly? If not, you may need to consider estate planning for your pets.

What Happens When You Make No Provisions for Your Pet

If you make no provision in your estate planning for your pet, there is no way to guess how your pet will be taken care of after your passing.

Your pet is considered personal property, passing to someone like a book or piece of jewelry. Without a provision your pet may be left to your heir(s), relative, friend. They may even be given away or taken to a shelter.

Some individuals have an oral agreement with a friend or relative to take money and the pet after death. However, your friend or relative make just take the money and not follow through with your instructions. That is why it is important to establish official documentation of how you want your pet treated after your death.

How to Make a Will for Your Pet

Making a will for your pet can provide peace of mind that their care and well-being will be taken care of if something happens to you. Here are some steps to consider when creating a pet will:

1. Consider who should be responsible for taking care of your pet in the event of your passing or incapability.

2. Choose an executor who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and making sure the terms of the will are fulfilled.

3. Establish a fund for taking care of your pet over its lifetime.

4. Get everything in writing with a lawyer.

5. Keep the document up-to-date as life changes and circumstances shift. Be sure to review the document every year or two.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your pet will be properly taken care of no matter what happens to you. Having a plan in place can give you peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will be looked after if something were to happen to you.

Provisions for Your Pet in Your Will or Trust

A pet trust can be inserted into your Last Will and Testament or your revocable trust agreement

In a pet trust, you can:

  • Name caregivers who will take ownership of your pet upon your death
  • Set aside a specific amount of money to be used for the care and maintenance of your pet
  • Name a trustee to distribute the funds to the caregiver or to third-party vendors, such as the groomer or veterinarian

Establishing a Pet Guardian or Caregiver

If you suddenly were admitted to the hospital, who would take care of your pet? In addition to establishing a caregiver after your death, you can create a document naming a pet guardian in case you are incapacitated.

This document should include clear instructions to the guardian, pet’s adoption papers, immunization records, and anything needed for the guardian to properly care for your pet.

When it comes to naming a pet caregiver for after your death, we always suggest naming alternate caregivers. In the event the first-named person is deceased or unwilling, it is important to have backups. It is wise to speak to your named caregivers ahead of time and verify their willingness to own your animal.

Designating Funds for Care

When establishing a pet caregiver, you can give them a stipend to compensate them for care of your animal. You may also designate a certain amount of money to be used for food, grooming, care, and maintenance of your pet. This money can be designated in your trust, or set up in a separate bank account for the benefit of your caregiver.

Beware of the second option - this money will legally become the caregiver’s asset and may not be used for the intended purposes.

Contingencies Upon the Death of Your Pet

You may also state what should happen when your pet passes away. You can state whether you want your pet buried with you or buried somewhere else. You can also have any remaining funds be given to the caretaker or donated to a charity of your choice.