Planning for Your Pets When You Die

Planning for Your Pets When You Die

Many of us who have pets consider them family. My husband and I love our two dogs, Jake and Grace (pictured above). Should anything happen to both of us, we want to make sure our dogs are taken care of.

There are a few ways you can care for your pets after you pass away. One is to nominate a caretaker in your will, someone who will receive the pets as a beneficiary. It would be nice to also give the caretaker some money as well, should he or she accept the role of looking after your pets. It’s a good idea have a discussion with the person you are thinking of nominating to ensure he or she is willing to accept the role. In the event the nominated caretaker declines, you’ll also want to provide for an alternative. As your last choice, you should name a sanctuary or no-kill shelter for where the pet should go.

Another option is to leave money to a trust for the care of your pet. In every state but Minnesota, this type of trust will be upheld by the court. The court will appoint a trustee and caretaker. The trustee will manage the assets and ensure the caretaker is doing a good job looking after the pet. To determine how much to fund the trust with, you’ll want to consider the life expectancy of your pet, the standard of living you want to provide, and the cost for the trustee’s services.

A trust is a good option for providing for your pet after you die because it gives you more control over what the trust funds are used for. You can specify everything from what food to give your pet, the types of toys he should play with, the medical care to administer, and how to dispose of his remains. You can even get crazy like Dusty Springfield, who instructed her cat be fed American baby food and to live in a 7-foot-high indoor tree house. As odd as it may sound, the court upheld those provisions and required the caretaker to perform them.

To tie everything up nicely, you’ll also want to name a remainder beneficiary of the remaining trust funds once your pet passes away. A good idea is to leave the remainder to a charitable organization like one that helps find pets a home. You may want to think twice about leaving the remainder to your pet’s caregiver, as it may provide an incentive to that person to not care for your pet in the best way.

While you have options for providing for your pet after you die, one thing you do not want to do is leave money directly to your pet in your will. Including a provision like “I leave $500 to Rover” is not going to be upheld by the court. And at that point, your pet is at the mercy of the court. To ensure your pet receives the type of care you want, you’ve got to leave assets to a human with the instruction to use the money for the pet.

Pets are very much a part of our families and should be considered in your estate planning documents. If you need a will or need to update your will to include your pet, book a consultation today to discuss your options.


This website includes information about legal issues and legal developments. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You should contact an attorney for advice on specific legal problems.

Lauren Lester is an affordable family law, estate planning, and probate lawyer licensed in Colorado.