How to Plan for My Pet After I Die

Estate Planning for My Pet

There are many options for planning for your pets after you die.  The only option you don’t have is to direct that your pet be immediately put down. Believe it or not, some people ask for that — but the courts will not allow it unless there is a medical reason for taking that drastic step.

Don’t Fail to Plan for Your Pet If You Die.

Many people fail to make adequate plans for their pets. These pets often get turned in to an animal shelter by relatives unable or unwilling to take them in. Older pets are much harder to adopt out and, sadly, live out their lives in a shelter cage… or worse. You can make plans to avoid that!

Did You Know that Your Pet Can Have Its Own Trust?

Almost all states, including California, allow the creation of a “pet trust,” which means a trust fund setup to provide care for your pet (food, shelter, medical payments, etc.). You want to be sure Jasmine.Cropped.12.04 (2)to name someone specific to be the day to day caregiver (the person with whom the pet will live) and also to name a “protector,” or person to be in charge of making sure that the caregiver is not neglecting or abusing the pet. You should also name alternates, in case these people become unable or unwilling to continue. How much you leave depends upon a number of factors, including the age and medical needs of the animal, how expensive care is for this type of animal (horses need more money than cats, for example), how much you want to pay the caregiver, how much to pay the protector, how many pets you have, etc. How much you leave for the care of your pet also depends upon how much you have — and there are extremes. Leona Helmsley tried to leave $12 million for the care of her small dog, Trouble. A judge cut that down significantly (but still allowed $2 million.) Leaving too much for pet care increases the likelihood that your heirs will challenge the gift in court. A judge may or may not uphold what you did, but either way it’s a waste of money and an unnecessary risk. For most people, the problem is leaving too little, not leaving too much. Remember to plan for as many costs as you can think of — the above list is a good start, but don’t stop there. How about expenses for relief caregiving when the primary caregiver is on vacation? What if your pet has offspring? Have you considered inflation or cost of living increases? Is there a maximum you want spent if there are medical needs? How long might your pet live? (Dogs, cats, and horses can live 15 to 20 years, or more. Some birds can live to 80 years or more!)

What If I Can’t Afford a Pet Trust?

In addition to pet trusts, there are other options as well. Many areas have pet sanctuaries where pets can roam free and live out their lives. These may require an upfront donation for the care of the pet, so check out requirements and then plan for that in your Will or Trust. Some locales even have “retirement homes” for pets, though these are not as prevalent as sanctuaries. How about final disposition of your pet’s remains? Did you know that some funeral homes offer pet cremation? This can also be preplanned or provided for under your Will or Trust. As you can see, there are many considerations that go into planning for your beloved pets after you die. The biggest mistake people make is not planning for a pet at all. The second biggest mistake is not planning for the pet’s financial needs. Naming a caregiver doesn’t help if the caregiver can’t afford to keep the pet.

About Helene P. Dreyer Koch

Estate Planning Attorney (Wills, Trusts, Probate) Indian Wells, California * 760.360.2400
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