Remember Pets in Estate Plans (Wills and Trusts)

   Early in my career, I cared for a lovely miniature Schnauzer who I will call Mindy.   She was owned by a very nice retired couple.  They called her their “baby’ and spared no expense caring for her.  Unfortunately, they did not make a plan for Mindy’s care after their deaths.  They assumed, like so many of us do, that one of their human children would take her. Unfortunately, they were wrong. I received a call asking what could be done with Mindy because no one in the family could keep her.  Imagine how poor Mindy felt losing both her family and her home at the same time. 
    Planning is the key to prevent your pets from ending up like Mindy.  Pet trusts are now recognized to some degree in many states.  According to Ron Wilson of Morris, Hall and Kinghorn, there are three legal areas that need to be addressed regarding pets: a power of attorney, what to do after the demise of the client and what to do in case of the demise of the pet.  

    A durable power of attorney is a legal document that states who (likely the trustee) will be responsible for the pet if something happens to the owner. This trustee may be called upon to find a nursing home that also allows pets, pay for medical bills, provide care or even find another home for the pet if the trustee cannot personally take them.  Since money cannot be given to the pet directly, it is given to the trustee who then uses it for benefit of the pet.  It is also important to provide instructions for the pet’s care including contact information for their veterinarian. 

    If any money is left over after the pet’s death, instructions should be left addressing who receives these funds.  I recommend any remaining funds be used to establish an endowment (meaning only a portion can be spent each year but not the principal).  This could be done through a local animal non-profit with the sophistication and foresight to have endowments. Be sure to name an organization that will likely survive through time and also one that will honor your donor intent i.e., that the funds be endowed. It is very important to make sure this document is readily available in case of emergency.

    What happened to Mindy?  She was one of the lucky ones who found a new home with the next door neighbor.  But, many beloved pets are not as lucky.  Several end up living out their lives at shelters because no one wants to adopt an older pet.  I have seen first hand that shelter staff genuinely do their best to give these special animals love and attention.  But it’s still not like having a real home.  Please take the time to get sound legal help and plan for your pets.  It’s the loving thing to do.  It can also be a blessing to human children who are not in a position to provide for the animals in the event or your incapacity or death.     

-Wilson, Ron. Pet Planning-It is That Important,


Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.