Planning for your pet

You may have thought about who will receive your home, jewelry, or other assets after you pass away, but what about your pets?

Our pets bring us endless comfort, especially as we age or go through illness or other difficult times in our lives.
Unfortunately, an owner’s death can mean beloved pets end up in shelters. Between 5 and 7 million animals are taken to animal shelters each year following their owner’s death. Many of them are senior pets, and most of them never find another home.

Don’t assume friends or family are able or willing take on the responsibility of your pet. Following a death, tensions and emotions run high, and a pet can get caught up in conflict or lost in the shuffle. A plan can ensure a smooth and immediate transition to a new, loving home.

Legally, a pet is an item of property, and when you die, it will have a new owner. You can make a new owner designation legally binding in your will or in a living trust using a provision.

You should leave your pet, and money to care for it, to someone you trust.

  • Talk to family and friends and make arrangements to rehome the pet. Choose someone who will have the resources to provide the pet with the care it needs throughout its lifetime.
  • When you leave your pet to a new owner, consider also leaving that person some money, to go toward the costs of caring for the pet. You can set aside a fund separate in your will designated to cover a pet’s expenses.
  • Because circumstances change, it’s always a good idea to have an alternative. A second option should be named in your will or trust, too.
  • If the pet owner has a terminal illness, they have time to introduce the pet to its new owners and home to make the transition less stressful for the pet and the new family.
  • Put together information about your pet for their new family, including health records, food preferences, favorite toys, sleeping and bathroom habits and any other information that would be important, such as if the pet is aggressive toward other animals or is afraid of thunder or fireworks.
  • Once you have found a new home and owner, formalize agreements rather than relying on informal or verbal commitments.

You may want to consider a pet trust, a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance. Typically, a trustee will hold property (cash, for example) “in trust” for the benefit of the named pets.  The trust makes regular payments to the designated caregiver. Depending upon the state, the trust can continue for the life of the pet or for 21 years, whichever occurs first. Some states allow pet trusts to continue for the life of the pet without a 21-year deadline, a provision necessary for pets with longer life expectancies, such as horses and parrots.
There are forms available online to help you establish and legally formalize a care plan for you or a loved one’s pet. The ASPCA offers information and forms for pet care planning in its Pet Trust Primer.

Consult your attorney or estate planner to make sure your pet will be protected and cared for in the event of your death.