Estate Planning When You Are A Pet Owner

Nima Ashtyani
October 2, 2023

Many pet owners’ worst fear is that their pet will end up in a shelter if they suddenly pass away or are incapacitated.  Good planning with the help of an estate planning attorney can make sure that your pets are taken care of no matter what happens.

Anyone who owns a pet should have legal documents in place that will secure their pet’s long term health and wellbeing in case of unforeseen circumstances.  Unfortunately, any of us could be in a car accident, fall suddenly ill, or for reasons we don’t like to imagine, not be able to be there for our pets.  Whether you are 21 or 91, it’s time to plan for your pets, just in case.  They will be safer, and you will be exercising an important but often overlooked duty of a responsible pet owner.

Planning for Fluffy’s Food and Expenses: Creating a Pet Trust

As pet owners, we know that properly caring for a pet can be expensive.  There is food, cat litter, a dog walker if necessary, and the ever-rising cost of veterinary care.  Just as you can create a trust for the care of a human child, you can create a trust for your fur baby.  As estate planners, we can help you create a trust that will specify all of your wishes for your pet(s) needs.

Who Will Care for Your Pets? Thoughts on Selecting a Caregiver

Choosing a responsible caregiver to take over the care of your pets in case of your death or if you are incapacitated is essential.  This person should be ready to adopt your pets, even if you are temporarily hospitalized due to an accident, for example. 

It can be hard to find a willing caregiver.  In these difficult economic times, many people have given up their pets due to financial issues.  Make sure that you have detailed discussions with a potential caregiver and that they are willing and able to take your pets if need be.        

It is best if this is someone your pet already knows.  A trusted friend or family member may be willing to take on the role.  If you are able to provide a pet trust, that will help with financial needs of your pet, which will help ease the burden on a new caregiver.

There are a few things one should keep in mind when choosing a caregiver for their pets:

  1. Consider this person’s long term stability: are they willing to make the lifetime commitment to care for your pet that you have? 
  2. Will they commit to taking your pets with them if they move? 
  3. Keeping the pets even if they have a baby? 

These can be difficult discussions, but with your pet’s long term health at stake, it’s worth any potential awkwardness.

Detailed Care Instructions

You will need to create detailed instructions for the long term care of your pet.  As pet owners, we know that each dog, cat, bird or fish is different.  Who is your pet’s veterinarian?  Does your pet have medical needs, such as a thyroid condition, diabetes, kidney issues, or other medical problems that will require both immediate and ongoing care in the event you are not there? 

What are your pet’s daily routines?  How often does your dog need to be walked?  What are your pet’s favorite foods?  Do they have a special medical diet?  You should make this specific enough to give your designated caregiver the ability to make your pet’s transition smooth.

Keep Your Documents Accessible and Updated

Make sure your pet’s caregiver has all the necessary documents, including your detailed care plan, your pet’s medical records, and veterinarian contact information.  It’s best to also provide a copy of these records to anyone who might be making decisions on your behalf in the event of your sudden death or incapacitation.

Also, our lives change, and so do our pets’.  As our pets age, they may develop medical conditions or other special needs that you will want to update in your detailed care plan.  Make sure your designated caregiver is informed of any changes as well.  Even if you are only temporarily incapacitated, for example due to an accident, you want your pet’s care to continue uninterrupted.  Document conditions like arthritis that makes it necessary for a dog or cat to have a stool or platform from which to jump into the bed or a window.  As your pet’s “parent,” you know their needs best.  Make sure your pet’s designated caregiver knows them too.

Talk to Your Family and Friends

Make sure that your family and friends are aware that you have a plan, a pet trust, and legal documents designating the new caregiver for your pets.  A time of death or hospitalization can be confusing, and you don’t want your pet to end up missing a minute of essential care.  Talk to your family and friends about your caregiver, why you choose them, and your plan.  Some family members are more “pet people” than others, and might not understand the importance of your pet’s care.  Let them know how vitally important a part of your life your pets are, and how they can honor your memory by making sure your pets are safe and happy, according to your wishes. 

A friend told us this sad, but true, story:

“My cat Philomena was found outside a veterinarian’s office in a paper bag, stapled shut, with a note that said, ‘This was grandma’s cat.  We don’t want her anymore.’  By the time I adopted her, she had been through several temporary situations, one of them in unsanitary conditions.  She was about ten years old at the time, and lived happily with me for another twelve years, so she probably lived to about 22.   She was an extremely loving cat – the kind who likely spent her entire life on her previous owner’s lap.  My heart breaks for the time she was left without a proper home.  I’m so glad I was able to adopt her, but I could never let that happen to my cat.  Information like this might have saved my cat suffering, and planning for my own cat in case of unforeseen circumstances definitely gives me peace of mind.”

Making Pet Trusts a Part of Your Estate Planning

As with planning for your human family, wealth and belongings, setting up a plan for your pet’s care is something that you don’t want left to chance.  We can work with you to make sure that every detail of your pet’s care is well documented.  As the owner of two Great Dane mixes, Xena and Harley, and a Boxer Mix, Korra, I understand that your pets are family.  We take planning for your pet’s long-term health and happiness just as seriously as we would take any matter of your estate planning.  We look forward to working with you – for your pet’s health, and your peace of mind!


We are constantly on the lookout for resources and information that can help our clients. While online articles and blog posts are no substitute for legal advice and consultation, they are useful as a component of your due diligence and may help you consider questions or concerns you did not previously have. The blog posts and articles posted on our site are offered to help our clients, and potential clients, with that due diligence. The posts provided here are not legal advice. The laws of each state are not the same and what may be true in one place, may not be true in another. Furthermore, the nuances of each legal matter may make good advice to one-person, bad advice to another.

Please enjoy the articles on our site, please use them in your research, but please do not rely on them entirely.

If you have a legal matter that you may require assistance with, please contact our New Jersey office or call us at (201) 464-2040 and schedule a consultation to discuss your legal matters. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

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