Estate Planning for Pets: Preparing a Will or Trust

man posing with smiling white dog

Our pets are so close to our hearts that it’s difficult to think about the day when they’ll no longer be with us. But what if something happens to us first, and we’re not around to take care of them? That's where estate planning for pets comes in. 

Can you include a pet in your will or trust? How can you ensure your pet is well taken care of? We've compiled some helpful tips for estate planning with pets in mind.

Arranging for caregivers for your pet

You’ll want to choose both emergency and permanent caregivers for your pet if something happens to you. Here are some tips:

  • Talk about your wishes and the needs of your pet with your potential caregivers. If you have multiple pets, decide whether they should stay together or be placed with different caregivers. 
  • Ask a few trusted friends or family members to act as emergency caregivers. Arrange for more than one caregiver, just in case someone isn’t available. Give them feeding and care instructions for your pet, contact information for your veterinarian, and a key to your house.
  • Let the rest of your family, friends, and loved ones know how many pets you have and that contact information for your emergency caregivers is available. Keep this contact information in your wallet and somewhere in your home where it’s easy to find.
  • To ensure long-term care for your pet, you’ll need to name a permanent caregiver. Be sure to choose someone you know will be able to provide your pet with a good home and give your pet the kind of attention and care they’re used to. When designating a permanent caregiver, you should also include a backup option. 
  • If you don’t have someone in mind as a permanent caregiver, give detailed instructions to your emergency caregivers regarding how to find a new home for your pet. If you adopted a pet from an organization, be sure to check your adoption agreement for clauses requiring your pet to be returned to its care.
  • Keep in touch with your caregivers so that you can make other arrangements if their circumstances change and they are no longer available to serve in that capacity.
  • Although it might seem like a good idea, avoid naming an organization as your permanent caregiver (unless otherwise stipulated in your adoption agreement). While some animal welfare organizations might have temporary space available, they generally can’t offer the kind of long-term care your animals will need. Your pets are your companions, and they’re used to living in your home. Think about placing them where they’d be the most comfortable.

Including pets in a will or trust

You can help to ensure that everything goes smoothly by incorporating your wishes for emergency and long-term care for your pets in your will or trust. Formal estate planning for pets will bring you peace of mind and reassurance that your animals will be properly looked after. 

Remember, it’s important to set up emergency care as well as permanent care for your pets. Long-term arrangements can take some time to implement, and your pets will need immediate attention in the event that something happens to you.

While preparing your estate planning trust, you’ll want to include authorization for the use of funds from your estate for your pets. This money can be used for their care and any other costs that arise, such as the cost of transportation to their new home. Consider setting up a trustee, which can add an additional layer of oversight and care for your animals.

Planning provisions for your pets requires some important decision-making. If you have any questions, consult a legal expert who can assist you with deciding what to include in your will. That person can also help you figure out what kind of estate planning for pets will be most effective. And don’t forget to leave copies of your will or trust with your executor and chosen caregivers.

Checklist to plan for pets' care in an emergency