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trustsEstateplaningIf pet owners don't make arrangements, the outcome for their animals can be uncertain. If left to chance after the owner’s death, or incapacitation, the animals may be left without proper care or be taken to a shelter where the animals may be euthanized.”




Providing for the continuing care of companion animals should be an important part of estate planning for owners. Recently, we wrote an article exploring the problems and concerns of planning for our companion pets, to prevent them from becoming another victim of the growing numbers of beloved pets rejected by otherwise caring family members who were expected to deal with pets left behind whose owners were no longer able to provide homes. If the family is not willing or cannot take in a pet, they may not know where else to turn and out of lack of knowledge drop them at local shelters thinking they are really helping the dog.

Providing for the continuing care of companion animals is an important part of estate planning for owners. Companion animals are often considered members of the family.  There are 38 states that have statutes specifying that trusts for animals are valid. However, few practitioners have drafted such trusts.

Many Americans are very concerned about providing continuing care for their dearly loved pets. ladybuggdavisakasha1Sadly, a considerable number of domestic pets are unwittingly condemned to imprisonment and a life without love because their owners did not know—and were not well advised—to make arrangements for them.

One reason why setting up a pet trust is better than dealing with pet issues in a will: Trusts take effect quickly in the event of the owner's death, or incapacitation, compared with the execution of a will, a process that can drag on for weeks, if not months or years, in probate court.³

Because pets are considered property, they must be bequeathed to the trust.

For most pet lovers, animals are part of the family. In fact, the Friedman family of Deerfield calls their "high-maintenance" 12-year-old Portuguese water dog, Payton, their "oldest child."

It is recommended that the estate plan provide instructions on how to fund the pet trust. The amount will depend on such factors as the pet's age, cost of routine care, food and toys, Cordell said.

Jeffrey Schmidt, Fifth Third trust officer, said if pet trusts are part of a person's overall estate planning, they should cost no more than $250 to $500.

Todd Cordell, vice president of Chicago Trust Co. in Hinsdale, said establishing an estate plan can cost $500 to $3,000 or more depending on its complexity. It should be little to no extra cost to establish a pet trust as part of that estate plan, he said. If provisions of the pet trust need to be changed, amendments to the trust could cost $300 to $1,000 depending on the complexity.

In Illinois, a judge has the authority to reduce the amount of money used to fund a pet trust if the amount is deemed to be excessive.

The Friedman's estate plan, handled by Lindsey Paige Markus of Chicago law firm Chuhak & Tecson, calls for Payton to be adopted in the event of the premature deaths of dad, Brad, 38, an executive vice president for Chicago-based real estate development firm Urban R2, and mom, Jolie, 35, who works at Northbrook children's clothing store Peek A Boutique.

Interestingly enough the PAWS (PETS ARE WORTH SAVING) of Chicago, the city's largest No-Kill animal shelter has a special program for just this area of concern.

Guardian Angels are dedicated friends of PAWS Chicago who have committed to leaving a legacy of financial support through a bequest or other planned gift arrangement. They state that they receive no city, state or federal government funds.

Guardian Angel Pet Care Program
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Who will care for my pets when I’m gone?” PAWS, Chicago’s Guardian Angel Pet Care program is for you.

The Guardian Angel Pet Care program is designed to give peace of mind to PAWS Chicago supporters who are concerned about the safety of their pets, should something happen to them. By making a planned gift and working with PAWS Chicago representatives to enroll their pets in the Pet Care program, these Guardian Angels know that upon their death, or incapacitation, their pet has a safe place to go, will be given quality care and will ultimately find a permanent home.

In addition to providing for their own pets, these Guardian Angels are helping other at-risk homeless cats and dogs by financially supporting PAWS, Chicago’s important lifesaving work¹

Do you know of other programs like this that you can recommend?

The idea of legally enforceable documents that ensure companion animals’ continuing care is relatively new.

There are three documents to consider when planning the estates of pet owners. The will is valid after death, and its purpose is to distribute property. The free-standing, traditional pet trust enlists a trustee who distributes funds and ensures that the person caring for a pet follows the owner’s instructions. The pet protection agreement is the layperson’s pet trust—an affordable, fill-in-the-blank, legally enforceable document.³

Alternative Options

If your state has not enacted a pet trust law and/or you are interested in what else you can do to plan for the care of an animal, please review the options listed below.

Option 1: Life Trust

Pet owners have the option of creating a living trust for their pets. Such a trust appoints a caretaker and creates a monetary gift for the caregiver, conditioned on their continued care of the pet owner’s animal in the event of the pet owner’s death. If the conditions are not met, the money in the trust will go back to the pet owner’s estate and will not be given to the caretaker.

Option 2: Will

Pet owners have the option of putting a provision in their will for the care of their pets. Such provisions designate a caretaker and commonly set aside an amount of money with a request for the money to be used by the caretaker in the care of the pets. Pet owners can provide alternative caretakers if the original is unable or unwilling to accept the animals and can designate temporary guardians for pets while estate issues are being settled.

Caveat when using Option 2: Unlike a trust arrangement for the care of a pet, there is no continuing obligation for the executor under a will to see to the well-being of the pet once the administration of an estate is complete. The integrity and moral commitment of the caregiver will be your only assurance that the pet’s care will continue. Therefore, choose your primary caregiver and alternate caregiver, wisely.

Option 3: Humane Society or other trusted animal rescue group set up to accommodate pets in trust

Consider making arrangements with a humane society, animal rescue group or animal “rest home” to take possession and care of your pet. You should review the type of care offered by each organization, its facility and staff, as well as the costs associated with that care.

Option 4: Pet Protection Agreement

Created by Rachel Hirschfeld, the PPA is a check-the-box, fill in the blanks, legally enforceable contract between a minimum of two individuals or entities—the pet parent and the pet guardian. No attorney is required and it is valid in every state. (Currently available through 3

Please consult your states full pet trust statute or a licensed attorney for further information.


Code of Ala. § 19-3B-408
Year of Enactment: 2006

Summary of law: A trust may be created for the care of an animal, or animals, alive during the settlor’s lifetime. The trust terminates upon the death of the animal, or upon the death of the last surviving animal covered by the trust ²

Remainder beneficiaries. Most people incorrectly believe that all of the funds must be spent on the pet. This is not true. As a matter of fact, it is vitally important to direct the distribution of all funds remaining in the documents so that the court doesn’t get involved in doing this. The majority of pet owners leave the remaining funds after the pets’ death to animal charities and family. It is important that the remainder is left in percentages as opposed to whole numbers; you never know what the final number may be.³

Pet’s detailed description. Identifying the pet in detail is critically important to prevent a pet guardian from replacing the original pet in order to illegally extend trust distributions or benefits.³

Instructions for care. Instructions regarding the pet’s care should be detailed instructions that a parent might provide when leaving a baby in a sitter’s care for an extended period. Detailed instructions help ease the transition between pet owner and pet guardian. However, the instructions should allow the pet guardian to exercise some discretion when facing new circumstances.³

Keeping pets together. If the pet owner wants to keep together certain pets because they were raised together or have otherwise bonded, make sure to include this instruction in the document; it will not happen automatically. The ability to keep pets together can have a significant impact on the choice of pet guardians

Including all present and future pets. All pets owned by the pet owner, including those that the pet owner does not yet have at the time the documents are written, should be included. It saves the effort of having to formally amend or create a new document every time a pet dies or a new one comes into the family. Including the term “all my pets” accomplishes this.³

¹This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
² (has list of states and the summary of the law for all of the states and much more information.)
³Estate Planning Issues Involving Pets

State Laws on Pet Trusts     


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Do you have a plan what if something happens to you?

 Edited by Jan Mitchell