Home Finance specialist Pet Estate Planning: How To Protect Your Furry Friends

Pet Estate Planning: How To Protect Your Furry Friends


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

For example, I helped a man with five cats make sure they could stay together and live their lives in a senior cat sanctuary. I also had the pleasure of helping a lady set up a pet trust so that her cats, dogs and horses could stay in their own homes after she died. A skilled caregiver will move in 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 your pets, everyone should start by asking themselves the following questions:

  • Do any of your pets have special care needs (i.e. 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 in 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 care and administration of the property left for the benefit of your pets?

No two pet owners will have the same planning goals for their pets. You can say, “I want my pets to stay in my home, in a familiar environment, with a pet sitter who will move in and live on the premises. Or you can be comfortable with a new family forever or a sanctuary environment for your pets (especially horses or other hard-to-place pets). These are just a few of the options that should be considered when creating a plan to ensure that your pets will be properly cared for when you will not be able to do it on your own, 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 the people or organizations (pet sitters) who will have physical custody of your pets and provide them with daily care throughout their lives. Just like planning for minor children, before you get into financial considerations, you need to feel comfortable with choosing your guardian. For some, finding the right pet care provider can be a challenge.

You can consider family or friends, but you should never assume that they will be ready to provide lifelong care to your pets. You need to have a specific conversation to confirm their willingness to take on this responsibility. What do you do if you don’t have someone suitable for this important role? In that case, you might consider a pet sanctuary or lifelong 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 each year because their parent has died or become disabled.

Then determine the finances

You’ll also want to factor in the amount of money left over for lifelong care of your pets. If your pets stay in your home, then you will have the additional cost of maintaining the property and the house. Either way, you will want to consider compensation for your sitter and provide sufficient resources for the cost of lifelong care of your pets.

How much money is enough? Only you can answer this question. First, consider how much you are spending now on taking care of your pets. Next, assume that your pets will live for an extraordinary amount of time. Do the math, then add a little more to provide a cushion in case your pet has a ca

tstrophic disease. Life insurance and retirement plans can be ideal assets for providing lifelong care for your pets.

There are a lot of choices when planning for pets. Some pet parents choose to leave a fixed amount of money and their pet with a trusted sitter. This choice presents the greatest risk as there is no way to ensure that the funds are used for the proper care of the animal. Or you may want more certainty and choose to set up a pet trust for the lifelong care of your pets. Pet trusts can be included in your will, as part of a revocable living trust, or as a separate stand-alone pet trust. There are pros and cons for each choice.

Finally, choose a trustee

If you are setting up a pet trust, selecting a trustee to manage your pets’ money will also be a crucial part of your plan. Your trustee will be responsible for ensuring that your wishes regarding the care of your pets and the distribution of your money are met. The trustee can be the same person as the animal keeper, but this is not always recommended as it can create a potential conflict of interest. The best choice is a professional trustee, such as a certified public accountant, lawyer, trust company, or charity qualified to act as a trustee.

Animal Care Trust USA, a nonprofit I founded in 2018, is the nation’s premier charity dedicated to educating pet parents about the importance of pet trusts, in providing pet trust options and relocation services and serving as a trustee for pet trusts. Pet parents can choose from our ACT4Pets Community Pet Trust, Forever Loved Pet Trust, or create a personalized pet trust using their lawyer or one of our own. 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 they rely on you for everything. Make sure to pay special attention to the needs of your pets when considering the best way to take care of their lives.

On a mission to plan and protect your pet? Read my book, All My Kids Wear Fur Coats – How To Leave Your Pet A Inheritance, it addresses the need for planning for pets and provides checklists and other useful information to create a lasting legacy for pets. You can order a copy on Amazon.

Lawyer, The Law Offices of Hoyt & Bryan

Peggy Hoyt is a lawyer at Hoyt & Bryan Law Firms, author and companion mom. She is passionate about keeping loved pets in loving homes. A Certified Wills, Trusts, Estates and Elderly Counsel (BCS) specialist, she has published over 15 books on estate planning and gratitude, including “All My Kids Wear Fur Coats – How To Leave A Legacy To your pet “. She is the founder of Animal Care Trust United States, a national non-profit organization that provides pet placement and sitting services.

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