Estate Pets – How Do I Take Care of My Pet After I’m Gone?


With the increase in pet adoptions during the pandemic, more clients are starting to ask how they can plan for their furry friends’ care after they are gone.  When it comes to making sure they are looked after, there a few options to consider:

Using a Will and/or a Tangible Personal Property List

While we certainly feel like they are honored members of our families, pets are still considered personal property in the eyes of the law. Due to this, providing for a “Plan B” when it comes to their care can be as simple as including language in your Will, or in a tangible personal property list that gets attached to your Will. Either allows you to specify where or with whom you would like the animal to go in the event of your death. Language can be as specific as directing that the pet be given to a designated person, or as broad as a request that the Executor find a suitable, loving home. Pet owners can’t leave money to their pet, but they can leave money to the designated caretaker in the Will. One thing to be aware of, though, is that going this route offers no guarantee that the money will be used for the pet. The owner can include that it is their intent and hope that the funds be used by the caretaker for the pet’s care, but there is no real way to enforce it. This may be sufficient if you are leaving the animal to a friend or family member that you trust will follow your wishes. However, if you are looking for even more control over your pet’s future care, a pet trust might be a better option for you.

Creating a Pet Trust

It may sound silly on the surface, but pet trusts have been increasing in popularity over the past few years. The main benefits to utilizing this type of document are that it creates a legal obligation that your pet be cared for pursuant to your wishes, and allows for more control over the desired level and manner of care, as well as the funding for such care. This makes pet trusts a great option for someone with multiple pets that they want to keep together, or pets with special needs. Typically, these revocable trust instruments are fully funded upon the owner’s passing, and provide instructions to the designated Trustee as to where the pet should be rehomed, as well as how and when the funding should be distributed. Pet owners can even include instructions regarding the pet’s diet, veterinary care, and end of life treatments. They stay in effect for the remainder of the pet’s life, and include directions as to how any remaining funds in the trust should be distributed afterwards—either to individual beneficiaries or charitable organizations. If funds are added during the owner’s life, an additional benefit is that the trust could be crafted to become effective in the event that the owner becomes unable to continue caring for the pet due to a physical or mental incapacitation.

What Happens If I Do Nothing?

If you do not include any specific instructions for your pet in your Will, the animal will be included in your estate’s residue, and pass to your residual beneficiary. If you opt not to create a Will at all, the animal will pass along with your other assets down the line of succession via Virginia intestacy laws until an individual willing to accept the pet is located. If there are no willing takers, it is likely the pet would be surrendered to a local shelter or pound. While this potential outcome is upsetting to most pet owners, it is preventable with a little planning.

If you are interested in learning more about creating or updating an estate plan, give us a call to schedule a consultation with one of our estate planning attorneys at (804) 423-1382.