Make Sure Your Pet is Taken Care Of

SoupboneCutting edge rules in estate law have transformed the way in which courts now deal with pets and all other animals. The shift is on-going and the trend is toward a much more enlightened view of pets that improves greatly on their legal status as property. These changes bring new responsibilities and new opportunities.

It is vital that Pet Owners or Pet Guardians create legal documents that protect the welfare and security of family pets and all animals.

Two Statistics Are Instructive

More than four million dogs and cats are euthanized at shelters each year, nearly 9,600 per day. Over 500,000 companion animals were euthanized this year because their pet owners died, moved into nursing homes or assisted-living situations, or otherwise were no longer able to care for them, and left them behind without enforceable plans.

Orphaned animals are most likely to be euthanized quickly. While it is likely that the number of animals killed each year is comprised mostly of ill, lost, feral or irresponsibly abandoned animals, it is just as likely that a considerable number of domestic pets were unwittingly condemned because their owners did not think – and were not advised - to make arrangements for them.

Why You Don't Want to Put Your Pet in a Will

First, because the will isn't read immediately and pets can not wait to be cared for. Second, because the court is not required to follow instructions in a will. The court must only pass property to the designated person or organization, IF they think that is fitting. Third, because pets are property in the eyes of the law and treated as such. They are not treated as loved ones.

Check out this example: In her will, Jane left $10,000 to her sister, Nancy, for the care of her dog, Max. Nancy cried at her sister Jane's funeral than took Max to the pound and used the $10,000 for a shopping spree in Paris. No one, including the court, could do anything about it.

Because pets are considered property, they cannot legally inherit. Jane is not permitted to leave money directly in her will to her pet. The provision asking Nancy to care for the pet with the monies left is a request and the court has no power to enforce the pet owner's wishes.

Cutting-edge Options

Because it is relatively new, the concept of pet trusts and Pet Protection Agreement® pet trusts* has been covered in the mainstream press mostly as novelty or farce – unfairly, I must say. The scant coverage provided has been dominated by "infamous" cases such as those of Leona Helmsley and Oprah Winfrey, celebrities who provided millions of dollars in trust for the care of their animals ("while millions go hungry," you could almost hear the commentators say).

What's not as widely covered is the silent explosion of like-mindedness among many Americans who may not be as well-heeled as those celebrities but who are nevertheless just as interested in providing continuing care for their beloved pets, if only they were aware it was an option available to them.


When the pet trust is a free standing document and not enacted by mention in the will, then it is valid in all states. The court is not authorized to change your instructions in free standing pet trust. The pet trust requires an attorney, and may serve the client best in situations where heirs are expected to contest the plan or tax planning should be included. 

The Pet Protection Agreement® pet trust is valid in all states. It is a free-standing document. It is not enacted by mention in a Will so the court is not authorized to change your instructions in this agreement.

The free standing pet trust and the Pet Protection Agreement® pet trust contain the same fundamental elements and have the express purpose of establishing continued care for pets should the Pet Owner  not be around to do so. Both are signed by the pet guardian ahead of time, so they are not surprised when it is time to enact the pet trust or Pet Protection Agreement®.These documents authorize the pet’s “Community of Care” to take proactive steps to safeguard the designated pet or pets.

The Will has something called a Statutory Pet Trust in it but do not confuse the Statutory Pet Trust in a Will with the free-standing pet trust mentioned above. The Statutory Pet Trust is enacted by mention in a Will and is not valid in all states. Additionally, in a pet trust mentioned in a Will, there is a chance that the pet guardian may be unaware of the provisions, and may not be willing to participate.


Wayne Pacelle