Estate Planning: Your Pet Legacy βš–οΈ

Do you know what will happen to your pet if something happens to you? Do you ever wonder if your pet will outlive you? Do you have a pet trust? Do you have a will? If you’re like most pet parents, these questions are not on your radar. But they should be…

Why? Because over 500,000 pets are abandoned each year due to the death or disability of their human companions.

Your pet deserves a good life if anything happens to you. As we take better care of our furry friends, and veterinary medicine continues to improve their lives, it’s likely that a pet can outlive you.

For instance, the average life of a cat is around 20 years. The average life of small dogs (Chihuahuas, Jack Russell Terriers, Cocakpoos, Toy Poodles) is 16 years.

A pet legacy plan can ease your worries.



Pet Legacy Planning

What is a pet legacy plan? It’s a legacy plan that describes the details of your pet’s care.

Sometimes we leave pets with a friend or relative. But an informal arrangement does not ensure that your pet will get the care she deserves. An extended family arrangement may not be in your pet’s best interest…

It’s not easy to think about leaving our pets behind. Where do you start? One source suggested making a list of to identify:

  • Your pet’s daily needs (foods, treats, allergies, medicines)
  • Veterinarian and/or medical specialists and emergency veterinary hospital.
  • The person who will control every part of your pet’s care.
  • The person who will distribute funds to meet your pet’s needs
  • The person who will manage the money to ensure the proper care of your pet.

Legacy Plan Confusion

Let’s talk about two points of confusion around a legacy plan.

One confusing point is that you have to be rich or famous to leave a legacy. Wrong. EVERYONE has a legacy. Your life as a pet parent creates memories for your pet.

Legacy planning is proactive – it’s not about death. It’s about life and the quality of life you want to leave for your pet.

Another confusing point is that a legacy is about your ego. Wrong again. A legacy “allows your purpose to be carried forward.” Your purpose includes a roadmap for your pet’s future.

Your legacy can ensure that your pet will be well cared for and safe if something happens to you.


Oscar (photo: @SocialClaude)

Will or Pet Trust?

Next, decide what type of legal document your want for your legacy plan. Do you need a will or a living trust? Food for thought:

A will does not allow you to leave money or property to your pet. A will is only in effect after you die.

The residual or remainder of your estate, goes to the person you named in your will. Your pet does not get your money or property.

If you don’t have a will, the state takes control of your pet’s life and your assets.

A pet trust creates a legal obligation to care for your pet. This estate planning tool gives instructions for your pet’s care, names your pet’s care giver, and you can leave money for your pet’s care.

The other advantage of a pet trust is that it’s active while you are still alive. If you are disabled or can no long care for your pet, the pet trust leaves instructions for your pet’s caregiver.

You can also leave instructions to distribute any leftover money when your pet dies.

The person you name as caregiver in a pet trust must follow your instructions and use the money only for your pet’s care.



Door Number Three

Another choice in your pet legacy plan is to identify a charitable organization to provide for your pet’s long term care.

If you can’t find the right person to care for your pet, there are programs to help you. Organizations can:

  • Provide care for your pet’s lifetime for a large donation
  • Find a home for your pet
  • Provide care in a pet retirement home or sanctuary

Caveat emptor: As with any organization that cares for a pet, visit the facility. Think about what will happen if the organization loses its funding or staff. Talk to your veterinarian or rescue staff to find a reputable organization to care for your pet.

Here are a few programs:



Where to Start

A good starting point for your pet legacy plan is to make a list:

  • Write a master file of all your pet’s records (medical, adoption, etc.) and keep them updated.
  • Be sure your family and your attorney can find a copy of each document. (Reminder: Keep a copy of all documents in a bank safe deposit box and/or with your attorney).
  • If you have pet insurance, make sure funds are set aside for annual payments.
  • Keep the latest copy, payment history and information on the policy term in your master file.

Your attorney can also create a legal document that is a pet trust or a provision in your will. Find a good attorney to help you plan and identify how you want to care for a pet who outlives you.

If you’re still not sure about a pet legacy plan, do some research. Here’s a list of resources to help you:



Plan for your pet to have a good life if they outlive you…

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Pet Mom

“Dogs never lie about love.”
–Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

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