Can You Take Care of My Pets When I Die?

Bill Parrott |

Leona Helmsley died in 2007 and she left a majority of her $12 million estate to her dog, Trouble.[1]   My dog will not be as fortunate.   According to the American Pets Products Association, Americans spend $60.5 billion on their pets annually.[2]  We love our pets dearly and spend lavishly on them while we’re living but how about after we die?  What happens to our pets when we die and do we need to include them in our estate plan?  Yes, I’d recommend including pets in the family will or trust.

Ideally your beloved pets will be cared for by a friend or family member, however, make sure to check with the individual prior to including their name in your will.  It might come as a shock for some to find out they’re inheriting your dog and not your Porsche.   What if you can’t find someone willing to inherit your family pet?  If you don’t have someone to take care of your pet after your gone, you can contact an organization like the Pet Survivor Care Program (PSCP) to assist you with their care.   The PSCP will take care of your pet and help them find a new home.[3]

Your friends might not have a problem inheriting a lap dog, but what if you own horses or other large animals?  If you own horses, an equine attorney can assist you in drafting a trust for their care.[4]  A large animal vet can be a resource to help you find a home for your cows, pigs, or goats.  

Birds, fish and guinea pigs may be easier to house than a horse but they still have their own issues.  I owned a guinea pig growing up and it was loud and messy and her name was lettuce.  We had to give lettuce some lettuce so lettuce would let us sleep at night.

Snakes, turtles and other reptiles can be a thorny issue once you pass away.  Before you purchase a rattlesnake or snapping turtle, consult with your local pet store, fish and game department or herpetological society about how best to care for and dispose of your exotic pet.  Your local animal shelter probably won’t care for this type of pet after you pass, so you’ll need to make alternative arrangements for their care in your estate plan.

Regardless if your pet is large, small or exotic, here a few things to consider.

1.       Think before you buy.  Becoming a pet owner is a tremendous responsibility so spend time planning for their care once you’re gone.

2.       If you include your pet in your estate plan, name a trustee to care for your pets.  Don’t leave money or property in the name of your pet because your trustee will have the authority to care for them long after you're gone.

3.       Leave enough money, but not too much money, to your trustee so they have the proper resources to care for your animals especially if you own larger animals like horses.

4.       If your pet dies before you do, update your estate plan so they’re not included in your plan.

5.       Think long term.  The pet you purchase can live for a long time.  A Parrot can live for fifty years while turtles can remain active for a hundred years or more.   Horses, dogs and cats can live beyond fifteen to twenty years. 

Pets bring great joy to owners so we owe it to them to make sure they’re provided for long after we’re gone.   A thoughtful estate plan can be purr-fect for your beloved pet!

My roommate got a pet elephant. Then it got lost. It's in the apartment somewhere. ~ Steven Wright.

Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal… ~ Genesis 7:2.

Bill Parrott is the president and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management, LLC.  For more information on financial planning and investment management, please visit  

September 14, 2017



[1], Susan Donaldson James, 6/10/2011.

[2], Amelia Josephson, 2/15/2016.