Have You Been Introduced? Pet Estate Planning: The Emerging Trend Among Pet Lovers

Apr 1, 2024 | Aging Successfully

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Golden RetrieverThere has long been a popular exclamation, “What we won’t do for our pets!’ I am touching upon that today, a rather new and trending topic, one that is gaining traction among pet owners.

Did you know that 66% of U.S. households, nearly 87 million, include a pet? And we love our pets, don’t we? In response to the numbers and to our hearts, and most likely in the “right thing to do”-category, pet estate planning is rising in popularity.

Think about it. A regular (human) estate plan determines the distribution of your assets at death, but our pets are more than just property. Without proper planning, pets may end up in shelters or with individuals who may not understand or be equipped to meet their specific needs. Pet estate planning involves considering who will watch over them and establishing the proper funding for their care- and it can now be a critical element of any estate plan.

How do we create such a plan? What are the options or avenues for pet estate planning? Let’s talk about the legal tools available to us.

You could consider language in your will.

In this instance, you might consider your pets’ needs all the way to the end of life: their needs, contingencies [[bad hips for that breed? Long lifespan of many species of birds]] and what you would like to do for their care.

Designate a Beneficiary Caretaker  – You could talk with -and designate- a Beneficiary Caretaker. Confirm that the person you name is up to the task and accepts the responsibility. It is also good to name alternate caretakers to take over if the designated person cannot keep your pet. 

For example, you may have carefully designated Don as beneficiary caretaker to keep your beloved sheltie if something happened to you, but four years after your death, Don finds that he must move to a different house that will not allow the pup. Your alternate, Ron, could then assume the role.

Designate money, a budgetThe amount you set aside for your pet’s care should encompass all current and potential expenses, including routine veterinary appointments, food and grooming, boarding, medications, specialty treatments, pet insurance premiums, and a cushion for emergencies. Consider your pet carefully in terms of lifespan (EX: long lives of horses or birds or breed-specific ailments later in life, such as hip dysplasia or arthritis often seen in larger breeds of dogs). It is suggested that you overestimate your pets’ life span.

There are some drawbacks – to using a will as your tool: It is not immediate, especially if the will must go through probate, meaning there could be a lengthy period when your pet will not have any determined care. You may want to append a letter of final wishes to your will to avoid this. Although not legally binding, this document outlines special instructions to your family – including who should take custody of your pet.

It may appear that a will is shaky at best. As a Patient Advocate, I approach planning and care with a “What could go wrong?” -approach, and just as in healthcare, I see there may be cracks to fall through. Given your designations of beneficiary caregivers, only you can best evaluate if this will work for you.

You could create a Pet Trust.

A trust has two designations. You can designate a trustee separate from the caretaker to carry out its terms.

Through a trust, a trustee oversees its assets, pays the bills related to your pet’s care, and holds your pet’s caretaker accountable for your instructions. A trust also bypasses probate, so its terms go into effect immediately.

Fees are involved, and taxes – With a trust there may be additional fees to establish the trust, so you would want to add that into your decision-making along with the age and health of your pet, the dollar amount you want to put aside. If you are considering a pet trust, you may also want to factor in administrative costs, such as the cost of preparing a tax return each year and paying the Trustee a fee.

Study differences by state – All 50 states and the District of Columbia have pet trust statutes, which primarily differ in the trust duration. Most states terminate the trust after the death of the covered animal, while some specify a maximum number of years for the trust’s existence (most common is 21 years). A pet trust can be an especially attractive option for owners of animals with higher life expectancies, such as horses, tortoises, and parrots.

With a trust, you can also designate a remainder beneficiary should any funds be left after the pet’s death. The remaining funds can go to the caretaker or anyone else you choose, including a nonprofit, as designated through the trust.

You are essentially considering if this tool fits your scenario and weighing the cost of a trust versus the level of oversight this tool can provide.

The Patient Advocate weighs in.

As a Patient Advocate, I am always talking about the importance of preparing our own legal documents for several reasons:

– This is how you retain your power, to state and enable your wishes and who will help you carry them out.
– Although sometimes daunting, legal documents create a sense of order. They can bring peace of mind to you, loved ones, caregivers, and providers. To me, they are a gift to give and receive.
– Mostly and simply, I recommend legal planning in response to one of my favorite phrases:

We can all have a say about how things will go and where they will end up.

Looks like that saying can extend to our beloved pets as well.

Allow me to weigh in again from a patient advocate’s point of view: In my work, I encounter many people who are caught short in times of crisis and fast change. They do not make decisions, nor are documents prepared. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t thought about it, but I can tell you I have encountered folks who have given no thought at all about what they want (for themselves or their pets), much less have taken the opportunity to enable it through legal tools and documents.

(Did you pick up on that keyword, opportunity? You have one here if you so choose.)

Apply this to our beloved pets. Have you considered their circumstances if-when something happens to you and you cannot care for them in the short term, long term, or no longer?

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) is April 16 every year.

Please allow me to weave in some important information about the human aspects of planning. There is a national day coming up this month that would have us thinking about this kind of thing.

April 16th, every year, falls a very important day for me and many others. That day is NHDD, National Healthcare Decisions Day. NHDD is an initiative that exists to inspire, educate, and empower the public and providers about the importance of advanced care planning. Because of its importance to this Patient Advocate, you will be hearing a lot during the month of April, so head on over to my Facebook page or Follow me on LinkedIn as I talk about making healthcare decisions, and about the absolute value of creating Advance Directives.

I will (and always will) educate folks about how to think about what they want and then how to get their legal ducks in a row, whether for ourselves or our pets. We do this to retain our power or independence or to communicate what we want to our Very Important People so they will know our wishes and what to do. What a gift for them and for their direction in our wishes. Real peace for all concerned, I tell you.

Next steps

Returning now to our beloved pets and planning for and ensuring their care. They are part of the family, and so we must plan for them as well as the deserved and loved ones they are.

If you are feeling the tug to get your legal ducks in a row and need some help to do so, I am happy to help with this process- the thinking and then the action. I am an old hand at assisting folks with their thinking and decisions using customized services in accordance with their unique circumstances and wishes.

Here are your next steps as I see them: The next time you look at your beloved pet, furry or otherwise, begin to think about what happens to it if you are unable to care for it temporarily or permanently. You now have some information that should get you started in the right direction for your pets’ care.

I hope what I’ve shared today helps you and your pets move forward more comfortably in the future.


NHDD, National Healthcare Decision Day is April 16. Need some help in your thinking and planning? Nancy is an old hand at this, and assisting would be her honor. Schedule your Complimentary Consultation toward engagement today. Nancyruffner.com  919.628.4428