Did You Include Your Pet in Your Estate Plan?

My family dog’s name is “Buddy”. He is a Cockapoo that is almost five years old. He can do tricks. He loves to play fetch. And he is always the first one to greet me when I come home from work. Below is a picture of Buddy at home waiting for a treat.

Many pets like Buddy end up in shelters after their owner dies or becomes incapacitated. In fact, the Humane Society estimates that between 100,00 to 500,000 pets are placed in shelters each year for exactly this reason, and a large number of these animals are ultimately euthanized. This can be avoided if you remember to include your pet in your Estate Plan. Whether we like it or not, the law considers pets to be nothing more than personal property just like cars, furniture, and electronic devices. In light of this reality, it’s vital that you provide for your pet’s future care through estate planning, so when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved friend won’t wind up in a shelter or worse. The following tips offer helpful advice to ensure your pet receives the best possible care when you’re no longer able to do it yourself. Identify a New Caregiver for Your Pet Selecting a trustworthy caregiver is the first—and most important—step in protecting your pet(s) through estate planning. Many people assume their children, relatives, or friends will be suitable guardians, but the reality is properly caring for most pets is a major commitment of time, emotion, and finances.

It’s best to come up with a list of potential candidates, and then have a frank talk with each of them, discussing the extent of care your pet requires and whether they have any personal issues (allergies, housing, other pets) that might prevent them from providing the necessary care.

Get it in Writing Once you’ve chosen a guardian—along with one or two alternates in case something happens to your first choice—outline all of your pet’s care requirements, listing its health issues, dietary concerns, medications, etc. These requirements should be set forth in a properly drafted legal document to ensure that your wishes are carried out and enforceable. Provide Funding for Your Pet’s Care All pets have basic food, shelter, and medical needs, and these needs can be quite expensive, depending on the animal’s age and health. And if you’re like most pet owners, you probably want your pet to receive more than just the bare necessities, so it’s imperative that you leave enough money to cover all such expenses. Be sure to not only provide clear, detailed instructions on how your pet should be taken care of in your Estate Plan, but also include the necessary funding to cover these costs. Be sure you think about all of your pet’s future needs, including any extra services—grooming, boarding, and walking services—when calculating these expenses.

Set Up a Pet Trust

Because pet care can be costly, the best way to ensure your wishes are properly carried out is to set up a Pet Trust. Illinois law specifically recognizes Pet Trusts. While it’s possible to leave funding for your pet in a Will, a Will cannot guarantee the new caregiver will use the funds properly or even that they’ll care for your pet at all. A person who’s left your pet in a Will can simply drop the animal off at a local shelter and keep the money for themselves. A Pet Trust, on the other hand, allows you to lay out detailed rules for exactly how the trust’s funds can be used. To ensure your wishes are accurately carried out, you should name someone other than the caregiver as trustee, so this person can manage the funds and make sure they’re only used as spelled out by the rules you’ve created.


Providing for your pets in your Estate Plan can range from simple provisions in your Will to more complex Pet Trusts. Whether simple or complex, a proper Estate Plan includes the necessary elements to ensure your pet will continue to receive the love and care it deserves if you aren’t around to do it.

This article is a service of Attorney Chad A. Ritchie and the Ritchie Law Office, Ltd.

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