Setting Up a Trust for Your Pet

Photo Credit: Alan Kay

Photo Credit: Alan Kay

A dear friend of mine just entered hospice care. After a courageous battle, she is finally surrendering to ovarian cancer. In a conversation shared yesterday, she told me that she wants her beloved horse Partner to go to one of our mutual friends along with her truck and trailer and money to take care of him for the rest of his life. When asked if all of this was in writing (my hope was that all of this was already recorded in a notarized legal document), she responded with, “No.”

So, while I’m now aware of my friend’s intentions for her horse, there’s no guarantee that her wishes will be carried out when all is said and done. She is concerned that her husband might not be happy with her plan (he doesn’t know about it yet, nor does she want him to). I’m in the process of contacting my friend’s attorney to see if he is available to talk with her and prepare an appropriate document. In all honesty, I’m afraid that we are running out of time. I’ve typed something up myself that my friend can sign today with hopes that this will suffice in terms of carrying out her wishes.

My friend’s situation is not unique. Who the heck knows if we will predecease our pets? Just as for our children, having certainty about how our animals will be cared for after we pass away not only protects them, but also has the potential to provide us with tremendous peace of mind. Setting up a legal trust is the best way to make all of this happen.

What is a pet trust?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement that provides for an animal’s care and maintenance in the event of the pet guardian’s disability or death. The “grantor” (called the “settlor” or “trustor” in some states) is the person who creates the trust. A “trustee” is designated and holds property such as cash “in trust” for the benefit of the pet. Payments to a designated caregiver(s) are made on a regular basis.

Rules and regulations

It’s now possible to make provisions for a pet through a trust in all 50 states. Minnesota was the last hold out and, earlier this year, became the final state to pass legislation approving pet trusts.

Rules pertaining to pet trusts vary from state to state. In most cases the trust terminates when the animal passes away or after 21 years, whichever occurs first. While this works well for most dogs and cats, it has the potential to be problematic for animals with longer life expectancies such as horses and parrots. Some states allow a pet trust to continue past the 21-year term if the animal remains alive. After the pet passes away, any remaining funds are typically distributed amongst heirs as directed by the terms of the trust.

Trust details

When crafting a trust, think about who you might want to care for your pets if you are no longer able to, and then talk to that person(s). Better to check out the viability of your plan in advance than surprise your friend or relative with such news after you are gone. While not necessary for the intended caregiver to sign off on the legal document, it is certainly wise to know in advance that you have their buy in.

Instruction within the trust can be very specific, including as much detail about your pet’s care as you like. For example, you might specify preferred types of food, favorite toys, sleeping arrangements, exercise regimens, and the number of veterinary visits per year. Consider specifying how much veterinary intervention you would want should illness arise. Details about care of your pet’s remains following their death can be included.

Think about how much money would be needed to properly care for your pets and how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver(s). Remember to factor in funds for grooming, boarding, and veterinary costs.

Lastly, identify your pets within the trust with as much detail as possible. In addition to their names include details such as breed, size, identifying markings and microchip numbers. Consider including photographs.

Making a trust happen

If you don’t already have a trust prepared for your pets, I encourage you to make this a priority. Ideally, enlist the help of an attorney who specializes in estate planning. If this isn’t feasible, type up a document (as I am doing today for my friend) and sign and date it. It might be a good idea to also have the document signed by a witness or two. I suspect there are on line templates one can follow as well.

Performing such “grown up tasks” isn’t much fun, and it’s certainly no fun to think about someone else caring for your beloved animals someday. Nonetheless, I encourage you to get a trust prepared for your pets. Guaranteed, after doing so, you will feel some peace of mind having provided this true expression of love for your animals.

Do you have a trust in place for your pets? If not, will you consider making this happen?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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13 Comments on “Setting Up a Trust for Your Pet

  1. An excellent topic. I just redid my Trust and included a section that made provisions for the pets I have at the time rather than having lots of detail about my current furries. I’ve indicated am bequest to each pet and named someone who will place them if I haven’t done so prior to my death.

  2. As usual, great post, Nancy. We just changed our wills and included a Pet Trust for our 4 beloved furheads. It was a first for our attorney, too, so we all learned along the way. Ours has a dear friend living in our home and caring for the dogs (she dog sits when we travel and they adore her) until my niece can relocate and inherit the house, dogs and money to care for them. It was complicated, but well worth it for the peace of mind.

  3. Too many pet owners neglect this important topic. Thank you Dr. Kay for addressing it so well. My husband & I recently adopted the sweetest, most easy-going-ever, older Boxer/Lab after his owner passed away & he was taken to a shelter. Your article should help more pets go directly to caring, forever homes when their owners pass.

  4. Have to add a comment. I have printed out both links mentioned in the responses to your article on establishing a trust for your animals. Thank you again for bringing this up and for those who included links for others to research this very important topic.

  5. This is a great topic as always for you to address! I have a friend who is a retired attorney who talked to our dog club about this very thing. She had a trust set up for her pets, one of which was a Westie female. The dog developed lockjaw(usually seen in horses-rare in dogs?) and although she had set up quite a bit of money for the dog’s care, the equivalent monies were used up within a few months in treating the very ill dog at a veterinary teaching school. The dog did recover, but was never the same after and did pass away due to cancer a year or so later. I don’t know if she increased the monies available for her other pets in a trust or what that experience taught her, but I know that even with her preparation and knowledge and financial means to do a trust, it still was not enough for her dog had she herself been deceased. It’s hard to “guess” what will be needed or what it will cost especially in the future as everything seems to go up in expense and price.
    I have read more than one case of a family member or the older person themselves having to take an older pet to a shelter because they can’t care for it anymore or as in the case of the family member, don’t care about the animal or realize really what they are doing. This is another topic and is sad for the animal who ends up the unfortunate, confused soul in a lot of cases as most people don’t want an older pet.

  6. I have had an addition to my will that specifies who my pets will go to and money for their care for years. Of course, the people I want them to go to were asked in advance & agreed to care for whoever is still here. It is vitally important to me that my pets are cared for should I die before they do.
    Thank you for this great article.

  7. If one has bought a purebred dog or cat from a reputable breeder, that breeder will most likely be glad to take back the dog or cat they sold. If it’s a very elderly pet, they will most likely keep it; if young enough to enjoy another home, it will be carefully placed. The Cavalier King Charles Club, USA, in its Code of Ethics, requires that a breeder be willing to take back ANY Cavalier they sell, at any time in that pet’s life. Of course, this is always dependent on the breeder himself still being alive and well enough to care for any pets.

    My adult children know to return both my Cavaliers to their breeder. I know this woman very well and have done for nearly 33 years, and I trust her to do what is right for my beloved Cavaliers. Neither of my children are in a position to care for them. And, of course, all my friends are far too old to want to take on a dog, either.

    Many responsible breeders will only sell a dog or puppy to an older person if its in co-ownership as they want to be certain that the dog will come back to them if the person is no longer able to care for it or has died. The last thing they want for a dog they have bred is for it to end up either with someone who really didn’t want it, or in a shelter.

  8. Cofrrection: …her husband will like her decision.

  9. Although I am very sorry about your friend, this is a perfect example of why it is so important to have your wishes in writing, especially in light of her comment that she doubts her husband will not like her decision. I hope it all works out for her and Partner. Thank you for the post.

  10. Very timely post. We just completed our trust with an estate attorney with provisions such as you outline for our dog. I also kept it somewhat “general” to encompass any pets we might have at the time of passing, including fish, whatever. We found guidelines here: It offers a very detailed downloadable questionnaire where you can outline all the care you want for your pets, including all of their little foibles and personality traits to put with your estate papers as supplemental information.

    I have designated a dear friend and responsible pet lover to care for our pets (or place them in loving, responsible homes); her daughter, a vet tech, is our “second” since I wanted a younger person on board as well.

    It was the first time our attorney had been asked to do this so it was a learning process all the way around. Well worth the time for the peace of mind it provides.

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