What Happens to Your Pet If You’re Not Around?

by Marian Philips

What Happens to Your Pet If You’re Not Around?

What will happen to your pet if you are seriously delayed getting home?

If you’re not able to get home – either for hours or for days or even longer – from a flat tire to an emergency hospital stay –  and your pet is there alone and in need of walking, feeding, or any special care, there are practical measures you can take right now to safeguard against this problem.

What will happen to your pet in the event of your death?

You can make a provision in your will for your pet.   But a will provision doesn’t take effect until the will is probated; and that can take weeks or months; so you also need to provide for the immediate care of your pet, even it’s only a temporary arrangement until your will is probated.  You can set up an informal arrangement with a friend or relative.  If you want more certainty, you should arrange with a lawyer to set up a trust for your pet now.

Steps You Should Take Now For All Eventualities

Designate an Emergency Caregiver:

In all events, you need to designate an emergency caregiver in writing, and a back-up caregiver, if possible.  The caregiver should be someone who lives near you, who is often home, and who knows your pet and whom your pet knows.  The person should have your keys or know where they are.  If you live in an apartment building, you need to have written permission on file with the doorman or super. Your designated caregiver should have a copy, too, so he or she can freely enter your apartment.  If your pet has any special needs, you should give the caregiver written instructions, or leave instructions in a prominent place in your home.

Make a plan in advance with your caregiver whether he or she will just visit your pet several times a day in your home, or whether you want them to take the animal home with them.

You should carry a wallet alert card that lists the name and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregivers.

Make a Will Provision or Establish a Trust:

Your caregiver designation can be in an informal letter, setting out your authorization and instructions.  This is fine for a short-term emergency situation – a few hours or a few days.

Longer-term care entails greater responsibility and expense, however, and should be memorialized in a document prepared by a lawyer.

You cannot leave money to an animal; but you can leave money for an animal.  This is accomplished through a pet trust.  The trust can be set up either as part of your will or through a separate document.

A will provision designates the caregiver, and a back-up caregiver, if possible.  As you and your designee will have discussed, the will should spell out whether this is to be a temporary or a permanent placement; and, if temporary, your instructions for how you want the caregiver to find a permanent new home for your pet.   The will should leave the caregiver a specified amount of money for the care of your pet.

A separate trust – outside your will – takes effect as soon as the trust document is signed.  With a trust, you can be the immediate trustee, with your designated caregiver named as successor trustee to take over if certain described events should occur.   In the trust document you set out your instructions and expectations for your pet’s care.   You establish the amount of money you want the trust to contain for your pet’s care, and set out your instructions for how you want it to be spent.  You can elaborate as much as you want in describing the care you want your pet to receive.

You can either set up a trust bank account during your lifetime, or provide for funding the trust through your will.   If you can afford it, you will definitely want to at least partially fund the pet trust bank account at the time you set up the trust, so that you will always know that your caregiver has the necessary funds available for your pet’s care.

With a trust, you can always change your designated caregiver, or change the terms of the trust, or revoke it entirely if you wish.

If you live alone, or if you survive – or may well survive – your spouse or partner, you know your pet is completely dependent on you.   You love your pet, and it’s important you ensure its well-being in the event something unexpected happens to you.


MARIAN B. PHILIPS is a New York attorney specializing in wills, trusts and estates. Her highly personalized service draws on over 30 years’ experience with clients of varied ages and wealth. Working alone and in coordination with the client’s accountant and other financial professionals, she meets the client’s full-service estate planning needs in a personal and cost effective way. Her goal is to make the estate planning and estate settlement processes as easy as possible for the client. She can be reached at willsplus41@gmail.com, (212) 355-3716.   www.marianbphilips.com

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