Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

Protecting your Pets

Calico kitten on couch

An often overlooked issue when people engage in estate planning is their pets.  While technically they are personal property, most pet owners see their beloved four-legged friends as much more. They are a part of the family. 

There are two times that the care of your pets come into play: upon your incapacity and upon your death.

How should you protect your pets upon your death?  Unfortunately, a provision in a Will may not provide the correct amount of protection for your pet.  You can leave a pet to a person upon your death, and you can provide money for its upkeep and care.  There is no mechanism in a Will or in the probate process to assure that the individual(s) who accepts the pet will actually care for and provide for your animal in the manner you anticipated.  In other words, you could leave your car to a friend but you cannot require that he or she keep it washed and tuned up.


In the probate process, once the estate is closed, all court supervision is ended.  Additionally, Wills are often not probated for weeks or months after an individual has passed away.  An animal cannot wait that long for care.

The better legal provision is a pet trust or a pet provision inside your revocable trust.  A trust is ongoing and can have care provisions that lay out the manner you want your pet to be cared for.  Additionally, a provision can be made for ongoing payments for the care, feeding, maintenance and medical needs of your pet.

Is it necessary to provide financial assistance to the individual who will be caring for your pet?  While perhaps not legally required, it is the appropriate way to provide for your pet.  The individual you select to care for your beloved pet may not expect to be compensated; however, responsible pet ownership involves the expenditure of money for veterinary bills, vaccinations, high quality food. If a friend or family member is willing to give his or her time and love to care for your pet, he or she should not be financially burdened as well.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Puppy in corn stalks

How should you protect your pets during a time of incapacity?  This is the most overlooked issue.  Before an emergency arises, give serious 

Once you have identified the individual(s) and have discussed the issue with them, write out your pet’s care plan.  When are they fed? What are they fed?  When are they exercised?  Where do they sleep?  Who is the vet that cares for them?  What are special medical or behavioral issues?  Is there medication to be given?  These are essential to a smooth transition in the event of your disability.
thought to the most likely individual(s) to care for your four-legged friends.  Next, have a conversation with the individual(s).  Don’t assume anything.  You may believe that your children or neighbors would be happy to take in your pet, however, they may not be in a position to do so.  Try to remember that just because you love your cat or dog, doesn’t mean that others feel the same way.

A pet is similar to a small child in that they are totally dependent upon you for their love and care and they cannot express preferences or concerns.  Be a loving and responsible owner and be prepared.