November 4, 2009

Taking Care of Rover After You’re Gone

By Curt Ford
Nash Nash Bean & Ford

Your pet may have been with you for years. In fact, pet ownership can likely lead to a higher life expectancy. A report by The British Journal of Health Psychology found that pet ownership resulted in lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and better overall health. In fact, pets may be especially helpful when you are in the greatest need. A study in Public Health Reports found the heart attack survival rate among pet owners was 28% higher than among those without pets. Many people suspect these health benefits of pet ownership result from the companionship the pet provides. In many cases, pets are considered a member of the family.

We plan for our human family members with a Will, a Living Trust, and other vehicles to ensure they are taken care of. However, we often forget about our furry and feathered family members or assume that one of our surviving family members will take on their care. However, if we do not make arrangements for our pets, they may join the hundreds of thousands of sad pets who end up in shelters or are euthanized because their owner is no longer able to take care of and provide for them. For example, according to the ASPCA, 2-3% of pets entering shelters each year do so because of the death or disability of their owner. That is between 120,000 to 240,000 cats and dogs who end up in shelters, or worse, because of their owner’s death or disability. None of us like to consider our own mortality. When doing your planning, don’t forget the pet members of your family. These loving, vulnerable members of your family need you to plan for them, too.

While you cannot prevent your own death or disability, you can prevent your pet from ending up in a shelter or being euthanized at your death. You can arrange with your friends or family for someone to be your pet’s caretaker upon your death or disability. The estate plan you create for your family can include a “Pet Trust,” a trust which ensures that your pet is cared for even after you are gone. An estate planning attorney can designate the primary caretaker in your Trust. You should also name an alternate caretaker, in case your primary caretaker is unable or unwilling to fill that role when the time comes. Additionally, the ideal caretaker for your pet may not have the financial resources to meet your pet’s needs, particularly if your pet has specialized dietary and health concerns. You can leave a list of your pet’s foods, medicines, veterinarian, and other useful information for your pet’s caretaker. Your Trust can set aside some money to provide for your pet’s food and medical needs for the remainder of your pet’s years. Your Trustee will administer that money and is under a duty to use the money that you set aside for your pet’s needs. If you choose, you can even pay your pet’s caretaker a monthly stipend or a set sum for taking on this responsibility. If you have no friends or family to act as caregiver for your pet, consider designating a charitable organization such as Best Friends (, Bideawee (, or a similar pet adoption / rescue agency to take your pet, along with a donation, to the charity as part of your estate plan. A qualified estate planning attorney, one who focuses his or her practice in estate planning, will know how to craft a Pet Trust to provide for your pet.

Your pet has provided you with love and affection. Now, you can do something to ensure that someone is there to love and care for your pet, even if you are no longer able to do so. Do the loving thing, call your estate planning attorney today to arrange for a Pet Trust.

Nash Nash Bean & Ford are members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. To receive a copy of our most recent newsletter “Your Estate Matters” or for a free consultation on Estate or Long Term Care Planning, call 309-944-2188, 309-762-9368 or 1-800-644-5345. You may also contact our firm by email at or visit our web site at

The firm devotes its practice primarily in the areas of estate, business and tax planning and related areas of the law, as well as elder law and trust administration and probate. We offer guidance and advice to our clients in every area of estate planning.

This column is designed for general information purposes only, and is not intended, nor should be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult your attorney if specific legal information is desired.