Building a Future for Your Pet

By Jadranko Tomic Bobas, J.D., Managing Hotline Attorney and Angela Quinn, Legal Hotline Intern 

It is still debated in the legal world as to whether pets should be treated as property or as family members. Once you die, the question often becomes, who “inherits” or “adopts” your pet? 

Either way, the safest way to provide care for your pet after you die, is to consider them in your estate planning.  

What happens to my pet if I die? 

The best circumstance is that a family member volunteers to care for your pet for the rest of its life. On the other hand, some situations may vary, ranging from having your pet go to a shelter, be euthanized, to someone just letting your pet live without a home.  

In the event of an unexpected illness, accident, or death, it is beneficial to designate a responsible friend or relative with crucial caregiving access to your pet including: 

  • Keys to your home, 
  • Your veterinarian’s contact information; including name, address, and phone number, 
  • Knowledge of your pet’s favorite hiding spots/cage, 
  • Feeding and dietary instructions with access to food storage, and 
  • Information on any behavioral or health issues. 

This information should not be the only preparation for your pet’s future care, but rather act as a “Letter of Instruction” to help guide your pet’s care in case of an emergency. For a more permanent solution for your pet’s needs in case something happens to you, you should consider including them in your will or trust.   

Pet Trusts 

Some argue that a pet trust is the best option to ensure your wishes for the complete care of your pet after your passing.  

For example, someone else may not know whether you prefer for your pet to be cremated or buried once their life ends; or whether you want to keep multiple pets together or continue to go to the same veterinarian. 

Even if your pet is willfully adopted into a friend or relative’s family, your pet could be a financial burden. A pet trust can be a way to cover the cost of care for your pet. A pet trust is a legal document that is recognized in 39 states and can be formally prepared by an attorney specializing in estate planning.    

According to Michael Markarian of the Humane Society, “[Trusts are a better option], as a will may take weeks to be executed and could be contested, but a living trust can be written to immediately take effect.”  

 Planning for Your Pet’s Future 

The Humane Society offers a fact sheet on estate-planning. This is a great resource that considers overlooked consequences for lack of planning, alternative questions, and differentiates between wills and trusts when planning your pet’s possible future without you.