Pet Estate Planning: How to Protect Your Furry Friends

Pet Estate Planning: How to Protect Your Furry Friends 41 logo

Planning for your four-legged loved ones (better known as your children who wear fur coats) can be just as challenging as planning for your two-legged loved ones. As a specialist in wills, trusts and probate, and an animal lover, I have helped many people make plans to protect their pets over the years.

For example, I helped a man with five cats ensure they could stay together and live out their lives at a senior cat sanctuary. I also had the pleasure of helping a lady create a pet trust so that her cats, dogs and horses could stay in her own home after her death. A qualified sitter will move into her home and live on her farm with her pets, so they never have to find a new place to live.

Each case is as different as the animals in our lives, but when planning ahead for your pets, everyone should start by considering the following questions:

  • Do any of your pets have unique care requirements (ie health issues, unusual behaviors, etc.) that require special planning?
  • Where do you want your pets to live: at home, with a friend or loved one, or at a sanctuary?
  • What financial resources will you provide to ensure your pets are properly cared for?
  • Who will be responsible for providing daily care?
  • Who will be responsible for the surveillance and administration of the assets left for the benefit of your pets?

No two pet owners have the same planning goals for their pets. You can say, “I want my pets to stay in my home, in a familiar setting, with a pet sitter who will move in and live on the premises.” Or you may feel comfortable with a new forever family or sanctuary environment for your pets (particularly horses or other hard-to-place pets). These are just a few of the options to consider when creating a plan to ensure your pets receive proper care when you are unable to do so yourself, whether due to natural disaster, disability or death.

First, decide who will take care of your pet

The first step in planning for your pets goes beyond the legal design of a pet estate plan. The first step is to identify those people or organizations (pet sitters) who will have physical custody of your pets and provide daily care throughout their lives. Just like planning for minor children, before you tackle any of the financial considerations, you should feel comfortable with selecting your caregiver. For some, finding the right pet sitter can be a challenge.

You can consider family or friends, but you should never assume that they will be willing to provide lifelong care for your pets. You need to have a specific conversation to confirm your willingness to take on this responsibility. What do you do if you don’t have anyone who is right for this important role? In that case, you might consider a pet sanctuary or perpetual care organization.

Without a specific plan for your pets, your pet can become a sad statistic. It is estimated that more than 500,000 beloved pets are euthanized annually due to the death or disability of their parents.

Next, find out the finances

You’ll also want to consider how much money to leave for the lifetime care of your pets. If your pets stay in your home, then you will have the additional expense of maintaining the property and the house. In all cases, you’ll want to consider compensation for your caretaker and provide enough resources for your pets’ lifetime care costs.

How much money is enough? Only you can answer that question. First, consider how much you spend to care for your pets now. Then assume that your pets will live an extraordinary amount of time. Do the math, and then add a little more to provide a cushion in case your pet has a catastrophic illness. Life insurance and retirement plans can be ideal assets to provide lifetime care for your pets.

There are many options when planning pets. Some pet owners choose to leave a lump sum of money and their pet to a trusted pet sitter. This choice carries the highest risk as there is no way to ensure that the funds are used for the proper care of the pet. Or maybe you want more certainty and choose to create a Pet Trust for the lifetime care of your pets. Pet trusts can be included in your last will, as part of a revocable living trust, or as a separate, stand-alone pet trust. There are pros and cons to each choice.

Finally, choose a trustee

If you create a pet trust, selecting a trustee to manage your pets’ money will also be a crucial part of your plan. Your trustee will have the responsibility to make sure your wishes are followed regarding the care of your pets and the distribution of your money. The trustee can be the same person as the pet sitter, but this is not always recommended because it can create a potential conflict of interest. The best option is a professional trustee, such as a CPA, attorney, trust company, or charity qualified to act as trustee.

Animal Care Trust USA, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2018, is the first charity in the country dedicated to educating pet owners about the importance of pet trusts, providing pet trust options and relocation services and serving as trustee of pet trusts. Pet parents can choose from our ACT4Pets Community Pet Trust, Forever Loved Pet Trust, or create a custom pet trust with your attorney or one of ours. You can get more information at ACT4Pets.org.

Planning for your pets is an important part of your comprehensive estate plan. Your pets cannot take care of themselves and depend on you for everything. Be sure to carefully consider your pet’s needs as you think about the best way to care for them for life.

Are you on a mission to plan and protect your pet? read my book All My Kids Wear Fur Coats: How To Leave A Legacy For Your Pet, addresses the need to plan for pets and provides checklists and other helpful information for creating lasting pet legacies. Can order a copy from amazon.

Attorney, The Law Offices of Hoyt & Bryan

Peggy Hoyt is a lawyer at The Law Offices of Hoyt & Bryan, author and pet mom. She is passionate about having loving pets in loving homes. As a board-certified specialist in wills, trusts and probate and elder law (BCS), she has published more than 15 books on estate planning and gratitude, including “All My Kids Wear Fur Coats: How to Leave a Legacy for Your Pet” . She is the founder of US Animal Care Trusta national nonprofit organization that provides pet management and relocation services.