Posted by Sheri Tucker, M.S., J.D.May 20, 2024

When working with clients, a common question I ask is, “Do you have pets?” Why should an attorney ask a client if they own a dog or a cat, or another type of pet?  Your estate plan should consider including a plant that provides care and instructions for your pet.  How do you plan?  With a Pet Trust What is a pet trust in estate planning?  

My beautiful Diva Girl was fortunate.  My mom knew the breeder, Denise and Tom Trimpa with TNT Poodles.  TNT had a contract that also required my Mom to name a person who would take care of her poodle if something happened.  I was fortunate that when my Mom unexpectedly died,, Denise and Tom immediately brought our Belle into their home until I could take her. She is in her forever home as an inherited dog because of estate planning. It's important to remember that if there is a contract between the owner and the breeder to refer to it and bring it into your estate plan.  Some pets are not as fortunate. For awareness of National Rescue Dog Day May 20, 2024, let's talk estate planning and your pets.

Sheri and Belle


Normally, if you own a pet, it is because you enjoy having and caring for a pet.  According to the American Medical Association, pet owners consider the pet to be a family member.  As such, there is a desire to care for their well-being and plan for care.  Often people delay putting a plan in place—not from a lack of consideration but more from an act of procrastination.  When it comes to your family, proactive planning is the best solution.  If there is no plan for your pets what will happen?

Typically, owners outlive their pets.  But today more Seniors are choosing assisted living or facing incapacity issues.  If something happens to you, what happens to your dog?  Purebred breeds may be given up to specialized Rescues.  For example, a beautiful German Shepherd's owner recently moved into assisted living but could not take her 100 lbs. beauty.  He was given up to a German Shepherd Rescue and rehomed to a family in Maine.  There are several such Rescues for multiple purebred animals and stories. AKC definitely supports establishing a pet trust. Unfortunately, people sometimes don't want to go to the trouble to place them in such a Rescue and either dump them or put them in a shelter where the pet faces death. 

Currently shelters euthanize over 15,000 animals. Many of the animals end up in a shelter because the owner becomes incapable of caring for it or moves into a nursing facility. Because families tend to live scattered in different states, adult children may have no clue what to do with Mom or Dad's dog.  If there is no estate plan, instructions or wishes for a pet's care may also be non-existent.

The loving family member tends to be dumped or taken to a shelter if there is not a family or friend who wants the dog.  Often the adult children have families of their own, which includes their own pets.  If mom or dad is older with a young dog, the pet is easier to rehome.  If the dog is older, it is difficult to rehome.  Only about 25% of Senior dogs get adopted compared to a 60% rate of adoption for younger dogs. How does your estate plan protect your dog?

Is a Will Good Enough for my Pet?

A Last Will and Testament treats the pet as personal property and can provide a specific distribution for money to care for the pet.  Unlike the commercial showing the cat receiving property, the pet is property and money cannot be given directly to the pet. If the person is no longer alive or doesn't want the pet, then an extra step occurs as to what happens to the pet.  The specific distribution may lapse or maybe another person is named.  The pet's fate hangs with the Personal Representative and property distribution. What if you just want a Last Will and Testament but also a Pet Trust?  Refer to the Pet Trust as a specific distribution and ask your estate planning attorney to create the Pet Trust.

What is a Pet Trust?

Most states allow for the creation of a Pet Trust.  Missouri Statute RSMo 456.4-408 provides the legal means for a Pet Trust to be created during the grantor's life.  What if your beloved cat or dog outlives you? In your estate plan, you can set up a Pet Trust, so your beloved pet does not end up on death row or shuffled through foster care. You can create a pet trust that will provide for their care after you are gone. What if you already have a living trust but it didn't take care of your pets?  You have two options:  1) Amend your current living trust to include a pet trust; or 2) put in an amendment that refers to your stand-alone Pet Trust. Another plus in creating a pet trust is that it is put into action if the owner becomes incapacitated.  A pet trust is not just something for the death of the owner.  It protects the pet if the owner goes into a memory care or other living care facility.

How is a Pet Trust Created?

A living trust may include language that allows you to set up a Pet Trust within the trust document. The Pet Owner may specify the type of pet and even specific pet names included in the plan.  However, it is typical for the pet owner to say ALL dogs (or cats, or parrots etc.) including their offspring if they own it.  The Pet Trust names a Caretaker and a Successor Caretaker and maybe a First Alternate Successor Caretaker.  The Caretaker is the human beneficiary of funds specifically designated for the well-being of your pet.  The Caretaker will have custody of your pet and will be responsible for its care.

Your pet trust should also provide any necessary caretaking instructions.  Perhaps your pet is on medication or requires a certain amount of exercise, your trust provides those instructions. Include specifics for your pet to help the Caretaker become a good pet owner for your beloved family member, which also helps with the pet's adjustments to a new situation.

The pet trust also includes a sum of money to take care of the pet with a Trustee to oversee the money.  For help with creating a budget visit information at Chewy with this linkWhy is there a trustee over the assets in the Pet Trust?  A trustee makes sure that the money is goes to the care of the pet and not into someone's pocket for personal spending. The money is set aside in the name of the pet trust.  If the money outlives the pet, then the trust should also specify what should be done with any leftover money when the pet passes on.

Contact Sheri Tucker Today

As a pet owner, I understand how to help you put a plan in place that meets you and your pet's needs. I'm an estate planning attorney who will provide you with personal care service.  Let's work together for an estate plan that gives you peace of mind and keeps your pet from going to a shelter or an abusive situation.  Call 314-332-0011 or book now.