Legally plan for your pet’s future

When making plans for the new year, did you consider what would come of your pets if something unfortunate happened to you?

Although your demise is not an easy thing to consider, you can’t assume your family members or pet sitter can permanently care for your pet. Many pets go to shelters each year because their owners become ill or die, and no one has the time or ability to care for the pets left behind. Some people have good reason not to accept your pet: pet conflicts, allergies, rent restrictions, or finances. Only a legally enforceable document can ensure your pet’s future. Pet guardians and care expectations should be included in the owner’s will, as well as a designated pet trust. At least have someone sign a contract to care for your pet(s), with names and descriptions, to ensure your pets don’t end up in a shelter or have their fates determined by the courts, which defines pets as property, like the picnic table.

In the event that you are away when the agreement is necessary, be sure you have a wallet card detailing how many pets you have and who can be called to care for them. (Print your own at Provide copies of the legal documents to everyone mentioned in the plan, including the new guardian, veterinarian, groomer, pet sitter, and any others. Of course, Marasco Nesselbush reminds us to leave one with your attorney, estate planner and/or safe deposit box. Some state laws stipulate where the wills and trusts are kept or recorded before death. Pet guardians can be individuals or organizations. If the pet is left in the care of an organization, the legal documents should include directions on adoption. As with the personal representative in a will, a second guardian and “last resort” should be listed in the event the primary guardian cannot accept the pets. Organizations can require a fee, so consider this, too.

Broach the subject of your pets’ care with those you care about. Ask if they are willing and able to provide extended care for your pet if that becomes necessary. Be sure that you don’t make the person feel obligated to take your pet(s) or guilty for saying no. You want what’s best for your pet, after all.

When you meet with your tax accountant or estate planner, ask about how you can stipulate care for your dog, cat, bird, or other pet. This is a relatively new legal consideration, so ask about it. Pet trusts are recognized in North and South Carolina, as well as many other states. You can designate a pet guardian, as well as establishing a trust for the pet. Sometimes we don’t consider the cost of maintaining a pet and snicker at the idea of a trust, but consider these numbers:

  1. Food for 1 month = $50×12= $600
  2. Grooming each month = $35×12= $420 (minimally)
  3. Heartworm medicines each month = $20×12= $240
  4. Annual check-ups = $200

These expenses total a minimum of $1,460, plus tooth cleanings, doctor visits for infections, allergies and colds, and anything else that arises, such as pet sitting, pet tooth paste, toys and treats. And as pets age, the cost of care increases.

Rachel Hirschfeld, Esq., the creator of the pet protection agreement and the Hirschfeld Pet Trust, learned from a problem a pat guardian had that  pet owners should consider having a bank account in the joint names of the pet owner and pet guardian. She offers information at and Many details should be addressed in the pet protection documents that might not come immediately to mind, so check these resources.

Hirschfeld wrote a thorough article on the topic for the American Bar Association. You can read it here. Another resource is

Before another day passes, ensure your pets are cared for if you are unable to love them until they cross the rainbow bridge.

By Beth Crosby