Taking Care of Your Pets After You Die

Estate planning for your petsNon-animal lovers may find it hard to believe, but more and more pet owners are leaving their fortune to their pets. Joan Rivers made sure her dogs were taken care of after she passed away by including them in her estate planning. Leona Helmsley also left her dog millions in her will. Estate planning for pets is not exclusive to the rich and famous. Instead, it is for owners that consider their pets as members of the family and not mere property. To ensure that your pets are cared for, consider including them in your estate planning.


A will is a legal document consisting of instructions on how to distribute property after death. Since a will is not carried out until after one’s death, it does not address the care of pets during the owner’s lifetime. This will create challenges for pet owners, especially if they become incapacitated or ill and can no longer care for their pets. Additionally, wills are not executed immediately.

There is usually a lull between the time the contents of the will is announced and the distribution of property. There is even a longer waiting period if the will is contested. During this waiting time, it is likely that the pets will go without the owner’s intended instructions of care. Additionally, an owner’s laid out plans may be changed at the court’s discretion. Pet provisions in wills in some states are considered honorary and not enforceable. There is nothing that prevents a person from misusing the funds intended for the pets.

Pet Trusts

Unlike wills, pet trusts are implemented during the owner’s life and after death. Owners can be assured that their pets will be cared for should they become incapacitated or ill. Pet trusts can also be carried out immediately because owners determine when the trust becomes effective. During the creation of the pet trust, owners will have to decide the amount of funds that will be needed for pet care. Owners can also choose a trustee to control these funds.

Owners should consider the following elements during estate planning for pets:

● Who will be the pet guardian? This can be a person or an organization.
● How much funding should be set aside for pet care?
● Will the pet guardian be compensated?
● What happens to the funds after the pet dies?
● Will the funds be distributed monthly or yearly?
● What will happen to the pet’s offspring?
● If there is more than one pet, which pets will be included in the trust?
● Will the pets be together?
● Detailed instructions for pet care

Owners should also provide detailed descriptions, photos, or even microchips of their pets to avoid fraud. Without certain protections in place, there is nothing to prevent pet guardians from replacing the original pet to continue to receive funding.

Estate planning for pets is becoming the norm with 46 states including the District of Columbia having statutory pet trust laws.

Pet trust laws varies from state to state. To learn more about wills and trusts, contact New York probate attorney Rudolf Karvay today for a consultation.

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