April 4th, 2011 | written by Nancy Larson

Leaving a Legacy For Your Pet

The old saying goes, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives.”  Some of our best friends are four-footed and furry and become a part of our family.  They offer us their loyalty and unique personalities.  Our pets share our lives and give us their unconditional love.  For anyone who has ever loved a pet, consider your pet’s life without you.

English law has traditionally looked favorably on the practice of providing gifts to support specific pets, but that custom was not adopted into our state laws until recently.  In 2004, Illinois enacted the Pet Trust Act, amending the Trusts and Trustees Act, to permit trusts for the benefit of domestic animals.  By following provisions of the new statute, pet owners may provide for the care of their furry friends after they have died through their estate plans with careful guidance from an estate planning attorney.

Much like small children, pets are unable to speak or care for themselves.  They are at the owner’s mercy.  The first and possibly most important decision to make is finding a person willing to act as a trustee and caregiver for the pet.  One person can act as both caregiver and money manager or the roles can be divided.  It is best to review such arrangements ahead of time with the caregiver to ensure that the caregiver is of the same mindset as the pet owner.  There should be a thorough discussion about how the caregiver would provide for the pet in different situations.

As a practical matter separate from the trust, the caregiver should be provided with the history of the animal, including name, age, medical history, and instructions for care and feeding.  The veterinarian’s name, address, and phone number should be provided to the caregiver, as well as any additional written instructions that would be helpful.

The pet owner will also need to determine how much money to allocate to the pet trust.  Costs of routine care and emergency veterinary care should be taken into consideration.  If the trustee and caregiver are not the same person, then the trustee may want an annual report from the veterinarian regarding the condition of the pet.

The trust terminates if there is no animal alive to care for, at which time the remainder will be distributed as the owner has designated.  A pet trust that is funded very generously might encourage litigation from heirs or beneficiaries who are overly eager to get their share of the estate.  Some pet owners direct that assets remaining in the pet trust will ultimately be distributed to a charitable organization benefiting animals or another favorite cause.

For additional information on providing for pets in your estate plan, check out the following sources: and the book entitled All My Children Wear Fur Coats by Peggy R. Hoyt, J.D., MBA.

(Submitted to BND, 04/04/11)