Guardians of the furry: Pets and estate planning

older gentleman and his dog high five each other

How to effectively include your pet in estate planning

Estate planning is often thought of as an activity primarily for humans, focusing on wills, trusts, and the distribution of assets. But if you're a pet owner, it's crucial to remember that your pets also need to be part of your estate planning strategy. They're more than just animals; they're family members who depend on you for their well-being. And just like with other family, including your pets in your estate planning is important.

Identify a caregiver

The first step in ensuring that your pets are cared for after your passing is to identify a reliable caregiver. Discuss your plans with friends or family members who would be willing and able to care for your pet in your absence. Here are some considerations:

  • Willingness to accept responsibility: The designated person should be comfortable caring for your pet long-term.
  • Compatibility: Make sure the person you choose is compatible with your pet and understands the responsibilities involved.
  • Back-up caregivers: It's always good to name a secondary caregiver in case the primary person is unable or unwilling to assume the role.

Legal steps to ensure your pet's well-being

While pets are considered property in the eyes of the law, there are still legal mechanisms that can ensure their well-being.

Pet trusts

A pet trust is the most reliable way to ensure your pet's care. This legal entity sets aside funds specifically for the pet's care, administered by a trustee. It's a legally binding arrangement that provides instructions for the care and well-being of your pet.


Including your pet in your will is another option, but it has limitations. For example, the will only goes into effect after your death, not if you become incapacitated. It's also possible that a will may take a long time to be administered through the probate process, leaving your pet's immediate future uncertain.

Letter of intent

While not legally binding, a letter of intent can serve as a guide for your pet's caregiver, outlining daily routines, medical history, and other aspects of care.

Financial planning for your pet

Pet care can be costly. Whether it's food, toys, or medical bills, the costs can add up quickly.
That's why it's essential to have a fund designated for your pet's care, either as part of the pet trust or as a lump sum given to the caregiver. Also, keeping an active pet insurance policy can be an additional way to ensure that medical bills are covered, relieving the financial burden on the caregiver.

Your pet's medical records

Keep up-to-date medical records and ensure that the caregiver has access to them. This is especially critical for pets with chronic conditions or specialized care needs.

Pet’s end-of-life arrangements

Specify what you'd like to happen when your pet passes away. Your wishes should be clearly stated in your estate plan, whether it's cremation, burial, or another option.

Ensuring a secure future for your pet

As a responsible pet owner, it's your duty to ensure that your pets are well cared for in your absence. By including your pets in your estate planning, you're not just planning for their future but also giving yourself peace of mind. 

Katelyn Doyle, La Crosse Estate Planning AttorneyArticle by Katelyn Doyle, estate planning attorney. To learn more or to update your estate plan to include your pet, contact Katelyn at 608-784-5678.

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