Woman with dog after handling what happens to her pet after death with an estate plan.

4 minute read

What happens to my pet If I die unexpectedly?

What will happen to your pet if you die unexpectedly? Learn how to take action to make sure that your pets are taken care of after you die.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

It’s no secret that Americans love their pets. According to a recent American Pet Products Association (APPA) survey, an astounding 70 percent of American households own at least one pet. We often love our pets as though they were our own biological children and even refer to them as “man’s best friend.” 

If you are one of many proud pet owners, have you made arrangements regarding what would happen to your pet if you were to pass away unexpectedly? If not, take this as your sign to do so. Making sure your pet will be taken care of is a no-brainer, but we often aren’t aware of the tools available to put a formal plan into place. Not to worry! Today, you’ll learn how to take action and make sure that your pets are taken care of after you die, by the person of your choosing. 

Who will take care of my pet if I die?

If you were to pass away, then most likely, someone in your close circle will step up to the plate and volunteer to take care of your pet. Here are a few common examples of who may be up for the job:

  • Spouse

  • Partner

  • Significant Other

  • Parent

  • Sibling

  • Close friend

  • Relative

However, this is simply a list of potential options. Unfortunately, none of these options are guaranteed unless you have a formal agreement in place, as well as documentation that solidifies this agreement. If no one agrees to take care of your pet if you pass away, then your pet may be surrendered to a shelter. Most shelters do not have the funds or resources to care for your pet for the rest of its lifetime, and there is no guarantee that it will be adopted.

This thought is often heart-wrenching enough to motivate any pet owner to spring into action so that they can secure their pet’s care in case anything unexpected were to happen.

4 ways to specify how your pets are taken care of after you die

Luckily, there are several strategies that you can use to ensure that your pets are taken care of after you die. You will have much better peace of mind knowing that if anything were to happen to you, your beloved furry friend will go to a trusted, loving home. Based on the option(s) you choose, you can specify a desired new owner for your pet, ensure that your pet’s expenses are provided for, or at least ensure that your pet will have great chances of being rehomed successfully.

1. Name the desired new owner for your pet in a Will

The most straightforward and solidifying way to ensure your pet is taken care of after you die is to name a new owner for your pet. This can be done through your Estate Plan, specifically your Will or Trust. (We discuss how to set up a Pet Guardianship in great detail here.)

If you choose to use a Will, you can simply name the individual who you wish to become your pet’s new owner if you pass away. You can also choose to leave a part of your estate outright to be used for your pet’s care. Although this individual won’t be legally required to care for your pet in any particular way, or use the funds in any particular way, you get to choose someone that you trust. 

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to also name an alternate Pet Guardian in case your first pick predeceases you, your pet, or simply refuses the job. We also recommend leaving written instructions for your pet’s care that they can refer to.

2. Name the desired new owner for your pet in a Living Trust

Similarly, you can nominate your desired owner for your pet in a Living Trust. This works very much the same as naming the owner in your Will. 

Another option to consider is creating a Power of Attorney, and giving your named POA the discretion to handle your affairs including making arrangements for your pets should you pass away or become incapacitated. 

3. Create a Pet Trust

You also have the option to go the extra mile to create a Pet Trust. This is an estate planning tool used to ensure that your pet is taken care of after you pass away. Similar to a normal Trust, you can use your Pet Trust to name a person who shall take care of your pet, and provide them with the funds necessary to do so. You can also leave instruction for your pet’s care. 

When you pass away, the named Trustee will receive both the pet and the funds to take care of the pet. Unlike a provision in a Will or Living Trust mentioned above, a Pet Trust creates an actual legal obligation to care for your pet in a certain manner, and use the funds to only take care of the pet in the ways in which you have specified. 

Pet Trusts do fall under the purview of Trust law, so it can provide the greatest level of confidence that your pet will be taken care of exactly the way you’d like. 

Interested in learning how the rich and the famous have used Pet Trusts? Read our guide here that reveals more on the topic!

4. Sign up with an organization dedicated to finding homes for orphaned pets

We also don’t want to discount the scenario in which you can’t find the proper person who’d be willing and able to take care of your pet. Luckily, you can also sign up with a charitable organization that is dedicated to finding homes for orphaned pets. These organizations make sure that your pet won’t wind up in a kill shelter, and will work hard to place your pet in a loving home. 

There are also several organizations that will take care of your pet for the remainder of its life. This often requires a large donation, such as $10,000 to $25,000. 

Create your Trust or Will to protect your pet today

Deciding how your pets are taken care of after you die is a highly personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer. However, there is a wrong thing, or at least a less responsible thing to do, which is taking no action at all. Today we introduced several methods of putting a care plan into place so that you can make sure your pet will be taken care of in case anything unexpected happens.

While one can hope that someone in our trusted circle will step up and volunteer to take care of your pet for you, there is never a guarantee. Instead, you can incorporate a Pet Guardianship in your Estate Plan and have peace of mind knowing that your pet will be taken care of. You can even set aside funds specifically for the care of your pet so that they can continue enjoying the lifestyle that you’ve provided for them. 

If you feel motivated to nominate a guardian for your pet in your Will or Trust, there’s no reason to waste another minute. Here at Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement  options today!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative!

Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.