Providing for Your Pet’s Future Without You

Introduction: Have a Pet Trust in Place…Consult Your Estate Planning Attorney

Because pets usually have shorter life spans than their human caregivers, you may have planned

for your animal friend’s passing. But what if you are the one who becomes ill or incapacitated or

who dies first?

As a responsible pet owner, you provide your pet with food and water, shelter, veterinary care,

and love. To ensure that your beloved pet will continue to receive this care should something

unexpected happen to you, it’s critical to plan ahead. This information sheet helps you do just


What can I do now to prepare for the unexpected?

In the confusion that accompanies a person’s unexpected illness, accident, or death, pets may be

overlooked. In some cases, pets are discovered in the person’s home days after the tragedy. To

prevent this from happening to your pet, take these simple precautions:

• Find at least two responsible friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary

emergency caregivers in the event that something unexpected happens to you. Provide

them with keys to your home; feeding and care instructions; the name of your

veterinarian; and information about the permanent care provisions you have made for

your pet.

• Make sure your neighbors, friends, and relatives know how many pets you have and the

names and contact numbers of the individuals who have agreed to serve as emergency

caregivers. Emergency caregivers should also know how to contact each other.

Carry a wallet “alert card” that lists the names and phone numbers of your emergency

pet caregivers.

Post removable “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows specifying

how many and what types of pets you have. These notices will alert emergency-response

personnel during a fire or other home emergency. Don’t use stickers; hard-to-remove

stickers are often left behind by former residents, so firefighters may assume that the

sticker is outdated or, worse, risk their lives trying to find a pet no longer in the house.

Affix to the inside of your front and back doors a removable notice listing emergency

contact names and phone numbers.

Because pets need care daily and will need immediate attention should you die or become

incapacitated, the importance of making these informal arrangements for temporary care giving

cannot be overemphasized.

How can I ensure long-term or permanent care for my pet if I become seriously ill or die?

The best way to make sure your wishes are fulfilled is by also making formal arrangements that

specifically cover the care of your pet. It’s not enough that long ago your friend verbally

promised to take in your animal or even that you’ve decided to leave money to your friend for

that purpose. Work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust, or other document to provide

for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money necessary to care for her.

How do I choose a permanent caregiver?

First, decide whether you want all of your pets to go to one person, or whether different pets

should go to different people. If possible, keep pets who have bonded with one another together.

When selecting caregivers, consider partners, adult children, parents, brothers, sisters, and

friends who have met your pet and have successfully cared for pets themselves. Also name

alternate caregivers in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling to take your pet. Be

sure to discuss your expectations with potential caregivers so they understand the large

responsibility of caring for your pet. Remember, the new owner will have full discretion over the

animal’s care—including veterinary treatment and euthanasia—so make sure you choose a

person you trust implicitly and who will do what is in the best interests of your pet.

Stay in touch with the designated caregivers and alternates. Over time, people’s circumstances

and priorities change, and you want to make sure that the arrangements you have made continue

to hold from the designated caregivers’ vantage points.

If all else fails, it is also possible to direct your executor or personal representative, in your will,

to place the animal with another individual or family (that is, in a non-institutionalized setting).

Finding a satisfactory new home can take several weeks of searching, so again, it is important to

line up temporary care. You also have to know and trust your executor and provide useful, but

not unrealistically confining, instructions in your will.

You should also authorize your executor to expend funds from your estate for the temporary care

of your pet as well as for the costs of looking for a new home and transporting the animal to it.

The will should also grant broad discretion to your executor in making decisions about the

animal and in expending estate funds on the animal’s behalf. Sample language for this approach


{Article Number} A. As a matter of high priority and importance, I direct my Personal

Representative to place any and all animals I may own at the time of my death with another

individual or family (that is, in a private, non-institutionalized setting) where such animals will

be cared for in a manner that any responsible, devoted pet owner would afford to his or her pets.

Prior to initiating such efforts to place my animals, I direct my Personal Representative to

consult ______________________, D.V.M. (currently at the _______________________

Hospital), or, in the event of Dr. _____________’s unavailability, a veterinarian chosen by my

Personal Representative, to ensure that each animal is in generally good health and is not

suffering physically. In addition, I direct my Personal Representative to provide any needed,

reasonable veterinary care that my animal(s) may need at that time to restore the animal(s) to

generally good health and to alleviate suffering, if possible. Any animal(s) not in generally good

health or who is so suffering—and whose care is beyond the capabilities of veterinary medicine,3

reasonably employed, to restore to generally good health or to alleviate suffering—shall be

euthanized, cremated, and the ashes disposed of at the discretion of my Personal Representative.

Any expenses incurred for the care (including the costs of veterinary services), placement, or

transportation of my animals, or to otherwise effect the purposes of this Article ___________ up

to the time of placement, shall be charged against the principal of my residuary estate. Decisions

my Personal Representative makes under this Article ___________________—for example,

with respect to the veterinary care to be afforded to my animal(s) and the costs of such care—

shall be final. My intention is that my Personal Representative have the broadest possible

discretion to carry out the purposes of this paragraph.

Can I entrust the care of my pet to an organization?

Most humane organizations do not have the space or funds to care for your pet indefinitely and

cannot guarantee that someone will adopt your animal, although some may be able to board and

care for your pet temporarily until he can be transferred to his designated caregiver.

There are, however, a few organizations that specialize in long-term care of pets of deceased

owners. For a fee or donation, these “pet retirement homes” or “sanctuaries” may agree to find

your pet a new home or care for your pet until she dies. Be aware, however, that pets are

companion animals who need lots of care and affection; they may suffer from long-term

confinement in such facilities. Your pet will not want to be institutionalized any more than you

would want to be.

Before making any formal arrangements, visit the organization to see how animals are cared for;

where they are confined; who looks after them; when they are socialized and exercised; and what

policies and procedures exist regarding care at the facility and placement with a new family.

Also consider what might happen to your pet if the organization were to suffer funding or staff

shortages. If you decide to entrust the care of your pet to an organization, choose a wellestablished organization that has a good record of finding responsible homes quickly.

Can I request that my pet be euthanized after my death?

Being concerned about what will happen to your pet after your death is normal. But some people

take this concern to extremes, requesting that their pet be euthanized out of fear that no one else

will care for the animal appropriately. When an owner puts this request in his will, that provision

is often ruled invalid by the legal system when the animal is young or in good health and when

other humane alternatives are available.

There are some cases when euthanasia may be appropriate. If a pet is very old or requires

extensive treatment for a health condition, for example, it may be unfair to both the pet and your

designated caregiver to insist on indefinite care. That’s why it’s important to choose a

responsible caregiver and thoroughly discuss the animal’s condition and needs so that the

caregiver can make the best decision after you’re gone.

Do I need legal assistance?

Before making formal arrangements to provide for the long-term care of your pet, seek help from

professionals who can guide you in preparing legal documents that can protect your interests and

those of your pet. However, you must keep in mind the critical importance of making advance4

personal arrangements to ensure that your pet is cared for immediately if you die or become

incapacitated. The formalities of a will or trust may not take over for some time.

Is a will the best way to provide for my pet?

Although your lawyer will help you decide what type of document best suits your needs, you

should be aware of some drawbacks to wills. For example, a will takes effect only upon your

death, and it will not be probated and formally recognized by a court for days or even weeks

later. What’s more, if legal disputes arise, the final settlement of your property may be

prolonged. Even determining the rightful new owner of your pet can get delayed. In other words,

it may take a long time before your instructions regarding your pet’s long-term care can be

carried out.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should not include a provision in your will that provides

for your pet. It just means that you should explore creating additional documents that

compensate for the will’s limitations.

How can setting up a trust help?

Unlike in a will, a trust can provide for your pet immediately and can apply not only if you die,

but also if you become ill or incapacitated. That’s because you determine when your trust

becomes effective. When you create a trust for your pet, you set aside money to be used for his

care and you specify a trustee to control the funds.

A trust created separately from the will carries certain benefits:

• It can be written to exclude certain assets from the probate process so that funds are more

readily available to care for your pet.

• It can be structured to provide for your pet even during a lengthy disability.

Which is right for me—a will or a trust?

There are many types of wills and trusts; determining which is best for you and your pet depends

on your situation and needs. It’s important to seek the advice of an attorney who both

understands your desire to provide for your pet and can help you create a will and/or trust that

best provides for him.

You and your attorney also need to make sure that a trust for the benefit of one or more specific

animals is valid and enforceable in your state. Even if your state law recognizes the validity of

such trusts, keep in mind that tying up a substantial amount of money or property in a trust for an

animal’s benefit may prove to be controversial from the point of view of a relative or other heir.

Moreover, trusts are legal entities that are relatively expensive to administer and maintain, all of

which underscores the need for careful planning and legal advice.

After you and your lawyer create a will, a trust, or both, leave copies with the person you’ve

chosen to be executor of your estate as well as with the pet’s designated caregiver so that he or

she can look after your pet immediately. (The executor and caregiver may or may not be the

same person.) Make sure the caregiver also has copies of your pet’s veterinary records and5

information about her behavior traits and dietary preferences.

Consider also a Power of Attorney

Powers of attorney, which authorize someone else to conduct some or all of your affairs for you

while you are alive, have become a standard planning device. Such documents can be written to

take effect upon your physical or mental incapacity and to continue in effect after you become

incapacitated. They are simpler than trusts and do not create a legal entity that needs to be

maintained by formal means. Provisions can be inserted in powers of attorney authorizing your

attorney-in-fact—the person designated to handle your affairs—to take care of your pets, expend

money to do so, and even to place your pets with permanent caregivers if appropriate.

Like any other legal device, however, powers of attorney are documents that by themselves

cannot ensure that your pet is fed, walked, medicated, or otherwise cared for daily. Legal devices

can only complement your personal efforts in thinking ahead and finding temporary and

permanent caregivers who can take over your pet’s care immediately when the need arises. It is

critical to coordinate, with more formal legal planning, your own efforts in finding substitute


For more information

If you or your legal advisor would like more information on any of these matters, please contact

The HSUS Department of Philanthropy at 1-800-808-7858 or Learn

more about creating a legacy of compassion.

You can help your fellow species even after you’re gone with a bequest supporting HSUS animal

protection programs. Naming The HSUS in your will or trust demonstrates your lasting

commitment to animal welfare. Please keep in mind that we’re just as happy to be last in line in

your will; we hope you will consider The HSUS for at least the residue of your estate. For

additional information, please contact The HSUS Department of Philanthropy at 1-800-808-7858



NOTE: The foregoing is intended to provide general information and to stimulate your thinking about providing for your pet in the event of your incapacity or death. It is not intended to provide legal advice and is definitely not a substitute for consulting a local attorney of your choosing who is familiar both with the laws of your state and with your personal circumstances and needs, and those of your pets.

© 2012 The Humane Society of the United States. All rights reserved.


You can also contact ‘the Grey Muzzle Organization to see if they can help you with the care of your pet should something happen to you and you have not opted for a living will for your pet.

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