What Happens to My Pets When I Die?

Believe it or not, almost 1/3 of the estate planning documents I draft—whether it’s a standard Will or a Living Trust—have pet provisions. Just like provisions in estate planning documents that dictate where your personal property goes upon your passing, you can put language in place to ensure that your beloved pets are provided for after your death. 

To most common options available to pet owners, to facilitate the passing of ownership of pets are as follows:

  1. Leave your pet (along with some money, ideally) to someone in your will or trust.
  2. Create a pet trust to leave money and ownership instructions for the care of your animal(s).
  3. Sign up with a charitable organization who will help provide and/or find a loving new home for your pet. 

The best way to provide for care of your pet after you die is to leave your pet and some funds through a provision in your will or trust. Sample language would look something like this:

I give and bequeath to my Friend, JANE DOE, if she survives me, the sum of $10,000.00 for the care and maintenance of our two dogs ($5,000.00 for each dog) for the duration of their natural lives. If JANE DOE should predecease me, I give and bequeath the sum of $10,000.00, to whomsoever takes responsibility for the lifetime care and maintenance of my two dogs. Should my dogs predecease me, this paragraph shall become null and void and said this bequest shall lapse and pass pursuant to Article Five hereof.

Of course best practice is always to have a discussion with whomever you are selecting to care for your pets, to make sure they are willing and able to accept the responsibility and if they (or you) have doubts, you can always name a backup individual or backup plans. Note that naming someone in your will or trust as the caretaker for your pet does not legally obligate them to take on the duty. 

A pet trust is an estate planning tool you can use to create a legal obligation to care for your pet. In the trust document, you name a person to care for your pet, you provide instructions for your pet’s care, and you leave money for that purpose.

When you die, the person named as trustee will get the money and the pet. However (unlike a provision in a will or living trust), under a pet trust, the trustee will have to follow your instructions and use the money only for the care of your pet.

Finally, there are programs that have sprung up across the country to meet the need of caring for or rehoming animals after their owners passes. Again some are focused on rehoming, while some will care for your pet for the duration of its natural life but they usually require a large monetary donation. 


To discuss this and other estate planning services we provide here at Davis, Davis & Associates, P.C., contact us at (251) 621-1555.