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What Will Happen to Your Companion Animal if Something Happens to You?

by Rebecca K. Wrock, Esq.  Couzens, Lansky, Fealk, Ellis, Roeder & Lazar, P.C. –

What Will Happen to Your Companion Animal if Something Happens to You?

Have you ever considered what would happen to your companion animal if something happened to you? Do you have a plan? If so, is it legally binding? Many people fail to plan for their pets because they assume they will outlive their pets who generally have shorter lifespans. Often, when pets are considered, it’s through an informal arrangement that is not legally binding. In either case, a cherished pet can be put in a shelter, passed around from caregiver to caregiver, or even euthanized.

Ensuring that this doesn’t happen to your pet takes advance planning and legal documents that can be enforced on your pet’s behalf. The following are the most important decisions to be made when planning for your pet. Consider the below and then contact an attorney experienced in pet planning in order to put your plan into legal effect.

Choosing a caretaker and trustee

First, and most importantly, you need to choose your pet caretaker. The pet caretaker (or pet caregiver) can be an individual, more than one person to serve as a team, or an entity such as a rehoming agency, shelter, rescue or pet retirement home. It is always a good idea to name at least one successor in the event that the first named caretaker is unable or unwilling to serve. It is also a good idea to talk to your intended caretakers about the commitment in advance so that you can name others if your intended caretakers decline.

You also need to choose a trustee. The trustee of your Pet Trust may be the same person(s) as your pet caretaker, or may be different. You can name one or more individuals or an entity to serve as trustee. The trustee of the Pet Trust will be responsible for the financial decisions relating to your pet(s) and will be responsible for transferring the funds from your Pet Trust to the pet caretaker or directly to a service provider, pursuant to the terms you have established. If you are considering having the trustee and pet caretaker be the same person, there are some special considerations to keep in mind which your attorney will discuss with you. It is always a good idea to name at least one successor in the event that the first named trustee is unable or unwilling to serve.

Benefits of a Trust Protector

You can also name one or more individuals to serve as trust protector. The individuals named as your trust protector should not be the trustee or the pet caretaker. The trust protector will have the ability to enforce the Pet Trust on your pet’s behalf to ensure that its terms are being carried out. With a Revocable Living Trust, the beneficiaries have the ability to enforce their own interests; since pets cannot, the trust protector serves the same function and also imposes checks and balances on the trustee and pet caretaker.

After you decide on your agents, you’ll need to decide how much to put in the Pet Trust. How much will you leave for the care of your pet(s) and from which assets will these funds be taken? Consider bank accounts, life insurance, or other assets. To determine an appropriate amount, consider the regular expenses of each pet for food, veterinary care, grooming, training classes, boarding and other similar costs together with the anticipated remaining life expectancy of each pet. Add reasonable costs for unforeseen medical expenses generally unassociated with aging, and allow for rising costs associated with increased medical expenses as the pet ages. The proper amount will vary based upon the type of pet, the pet’s remaining life expectancy and the pet’s regular expenses.

In the event that you would like to compensate or provide a gift to your caretaker for assuming the responsibility of caring for your pet(s), consider a regularly distributed amount rather than an outright gift at the beginning or a gift of any remaining property upon the pet’s death. For example, distributions can be monthly, semi-annual, annual, etc.

Finally, you need to decide where the funds in the Pet Trust will go in the event that none of your pets survive you, or upon the death of your last surviving pet. This “final takers” clause can provide for distributions to any individual, organization or charity.

The idea that your companion animal may have a future without you can be a sad one, but putting a legally enforceable plan in place that will ensure your companion animal’s continued well-being and happiness is one of the kindest things you can do for your beloved companion.

To learn more, contact Rebecca Wrock at or 248-489-8600.