Did You Remember to Include Your Pet in Your Estate Plan?

Originally published in June 2018 and updated and republished June 2021.


My family dog’s name is “Buddy”. He is a Cockapoo that is eight years old. He can do tricks. He loves to play fetch. He is always the first one to greet me with a toy in his mouth 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. The following tips offer helpful advice to ensure your pet receives the best possible care when you’re no longer able to care for your pets 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 that properly caring for most pets is a major commitment of time, emotion, and finances.

Create 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.


Pet Care Instructions 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. 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. 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 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

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 actually use these funds for your pets.

A Pet Trust, on the other hand, allows you to lay out detailed rules for exactly how the trust’s funds can be used.

I recommend that the Trustee of a Pet Trust is someone other than the caregiver so that you have an independent third party as the Trustee to objectively manage the funds and make sure they’re only used as set forth in your Pet Trust.

Conclusion

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 provisions to ensure your pets will receive proper care and attention.

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


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