Pets: their fate if we die?

Pets are like family.  Pictured is my boy, Bill, who is definitely part of our family.  In fact, many of my friends call their pets their “furbabies.”  What happens to them if we die?

Historically, surviving family have been in charge of deciding the fate of a deceased person’s pet or pets.  And, historically, their fate often meant being surrendered at a shelter.  Before states adopted trust codes permitting pet trusts, some pet owners would leave their pet and a sum of money for the pet’s care in their will to a trusted friend or family member.  Unfortunately, less trustworthy people would accept the bequest, then dump the pet at the shelter.

Now, Ohio and many other states have adopted trust codes that permit creating a trust for the care of a pet.  You name a caregiver to physically care for the pet, name a trustee to manage funds in the trust and serve as checks and balances on caregiver, then name who inherits the funds left in the trust when the pet dies.  As Leona Helmsley’s heirs discovered, you cannot leave an overly large amount to a pet.  A judge will find that the amount is excessive and unreasonable, such as millions left to care for Mrs. Helmsley’s small dog, and will reduce the amount.

My clients are instructed to fund their pet trust with an amount of funds that is reasonable.  To determine reasonable, figure what it costs to care for your pet–medical care, grooming, food, toys, boarding, pet insurance, among other factors. Other considerations are your pet’s age, life expectancy, health.  This calculation will be very different for a dog expected to live 10-15 years as is the life expectancy of my beagle, compared to that of a horse that could live 30 years, compared to a parrot that could live 60 years.  Also, the amount of money you should leave for the care of two dogs will be different from the amount needed to properly maintain a stable of thoroughbred horses.

If you want to plan for your pet’s future without you, contact an attorney experienced in pet trusts.  Email me for help finding such an attorney in your state, or to help you if you are in Ohio at

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