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Accounting for Your Pets in Your Estate Plan

Davidson Estate Law March 29, 2023

Senior man with old dog in nature landscapePets are beloved family members. That is why including them in estate planning can be crucial. Failing to include pets can leave them unprotected in case of their owner’s unfortunate passing. At Davidson Estate Law, we strive to help our clients determine the best way to protect pets in their estate plans.  

If you live in Oakland or anywhere else in California—including Walnut Creek, Berkeley, San Francisco, El Cerrito, Alameda, and throughout the Bay Area—reach out to our team today to get started. We’re here to help you and your family protect what matters most. 

What Happens to Pets When They Are Not Included in an Estate Plan? 

In the United States, roughly 75.12% of estate plans filed in 2021 were wills. While these figures are encouraging, the question is: how many of those wills include specific provisions for pets? If pets are not included in an estate plan, they may end up without a caretaker or a source of financial support after the owner's death. In most states, pets are considered property, so they cannot inherit any of the owner's assets. Therefore, if there are no provisions made for the pet in the estate plan, the pet may be left to the discretion of the executor of the estate, who may not be aware of the owner's wishes regarding the pet's care. Consequently, the pet must go through the probate process like any other item in the estate.

In some cases, family members or friends may step in to take care of the pet, but this is not always guaranteed. Without clear instructions in the estate plan, it may be difficult for anyone to know what the owner's wishes were regarding the pet's care. This situation can lead to disputes among family members or other potential caretakers—or the pet may end up in an animal shelter or rescue organization.

If the pet ends up in an animal shelter or rescue organization, they may be placed for adoption. However, this can be a traumatic experience for the pet, especially if they are older or have special needs. Additionally, the new owners may not be aware of the pet's history or needs, which can lead to a lower quality of life for the pet. 

It is important to include provisions for pets in an estate plan to ensure that they are taken care of after the owner's death. Pets may end up without a caretaker or a source of financial support, which can lead to a lower quality of life or even abandonment. 

What to Include When Planning for a Pet 

When planning for a pet in your estate plan, there are several important aspects to consider. Here are some of the key elements to include: 


It is crucial to choose a trusted caretaker willing and able to take care of a pet after the owner’s passing. This caretaker can be a family member, friend, or professional pet caregiver. It is important to discuss the owner’s wishes with the caretaker in advance and make sure that they are willing to take on the responsibility. 

Financial support 

Pet owners can provide for a pet’s financial needs by setting aside funds in an estate plan. This provision can include money for food, veterinary care, and other expenses related to pet care. A good rule of thumb is to consider setting up a pet trust, which is a legal arrangement that allows individuals to designate funds specifically for pet care and appoint a trustee to manage the funds. 

Instructions for Care 

Individuals are encouraged to provide detailed instructions for the caretaker regarding pet care. These instructions can include information about feeding, grooming, exercise, and any special needs the pet may have. It is also important to include information about the pet's medical history and any medications they may need. 

Backup Plan 

Consider including a backup plan in case your initial choice for the caretaker is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility. This plan can involve naming a secondary caretaker or providing instructions for your executor or trustee to find a suitable caretaker for the pet. Additionally, a backup plan may include instructions on putting a pet to sleep in case of serious illness, age, or injuries. 


It is highly advisable to properly identify a pet, including their name, breed, age, and any identifying features. Folks may also want to include a recent photo of the pet in an estate plan to help ensure the pet is correctly identified. 

Can Money Be Left for a Pet? 

Money can be left for a pet through a legal arrangement called a pet trust. A pet trust is a legal arrangement that allows folks to set aside funds specifically for the care of their pet. Individuals can designate a trustee to manage the funds and ensure that the funds are used for pet care according to instructions. 

Pet trusts can be funded with any amount of money. The funds can be used for a variety of expenses related to the pet's care, including food, veterinary care, grooming, and even the cost of a new caretaker if necessary. The trust can remain in effect for the lifetime of the pet or for a set period of time. 

Trusted Legal Support for Pet Owners 

At Davidson Estate Law, we believe in providing our clients with skilled and compassionate estate planning counsel to protect their loved ones, including beloved pets. Reach out to us today to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.