How To Make Sure Your Pets Are Taken Care of After You’re Gone

James Johnstone

Sr. Estate Planning Strategist


Planning is key to the well-being of your pets after you’re gone — a fitting tribute to the unwavering love they’ve shown you.

Couple making sure their pets are taken care of when they are gone

Our beloved pets hold a special place in our lives, and for many, they are considered family members. In 2023, 66% of American households owned one or more pets.1 And, given that more than $147 billion was spent on pets in 2023, it’s clear that their well-being is important to us.2

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

We’ve all heard the stories of the ultra-wealthy leaving millions to their animals. Upon her death in 2007, real estate mogul Leona Helmsley left her dog, Trouble, a $12 million trust fund. However, this was later reduced to $2 million when a Manhattan Surrogate Court judge ruled that Helmsley was mentally unwell when she made her will. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) set up a $4 million trust fund for her dogs and left behind $1 million for a domestic employee to care for them upon her death in 2008. It was estimated that fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld left somewhere between $195 million and $300 million after his death in 2019, some of which he specifically allocated to his cat – who also had an active Instagram account. And while Oprah Winfrey is still very much with us, the media mogul has reportedly set aside $30 million for the care of her dogs.

Silliness aside, it’s all too common for pet owners to forget to factor their four-legged friends into their end-of-life plans. And even if they do, those plans often fall apart. In addition to including your pets in your estate plan, it is essential to discuss their care with your family. Your passing is likely to be traumatic for everyone, including your pet. Asking someone close to you to care for your pet can help make the transition less stressful.

Making provisions for your pet

While pets cannot inherit estates, you can designate a caregiver and allocate funds for their care in your estate planning documents. This should ensure the enforceability of the plans you have communicated with your family and can help avoid potential disputes. Additionally, this provision can serve as evidence of ownership for the designated caregiver, particularly if the pet’s microchip registration remains in your name.

Including a provision for your pet in your will (as opposed to a trust) won’t guarantee that the allocated funds will be used for their care as intended. Caregivers aren’t legally obligated to adhere to your wishes. Therefore, it’s crucial to select a trusted caregiver who will honor your instructions. Communicating your intentions clearly to family and close friends can help ensure accountability.

A more reliable method is establishing a pet trust. A trust removes the concern about your pet’s care by formally appointing a caregiver and overseer to ensure your pet is treated humanely. A trust allows for precise instructions regarding your pet’s welfare and ensures financial oversight.

Exotic pets demand even more planning

Large animals like horses require not only a lot of space, but are expensive due to the costs of food, health care, and grooming. And parrots and other birds can live up to 10 to 50 years or more – often outliving their owners.

What if the unexpected happens?

It’s one thing to be pragmatic and plan; it’s another matter entirely when something tragic happens unexpectedly. Fortunately, the law addresses this issue by treating your pet as property. In the absence of specific arrangements, your spouse or domestic partner usually inherits your pet, followed by blood relatives such as children. If you are unmarried and without children or relatives, state laws of intestate succession dictate the distribution of your estate. This emphasizes the importance of thoughtful consideration regarding your property and pet’s future.

Regardless of the chosen approach, meticulous planning is paramount to the continued well-being of your beloved companion after you’re gone — a fitting tribute to the unwavering love they’ve bestowed upon you. For more information, contact your wealth advisor. And if you are not a client, let’s talk.

1, 2 Statista, “Pet Industry Expenditure in the United States from 1994 to 2024.” Statista, 14 May 2024.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is a parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. The information is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors. Content, research, tools, and stock or option symbols are for educational and illustrative purposes only and do not imply a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell a particular security or to engage in any particular investment strategy. For financial planning advice specific to your circumstances, talk to a qualified professional at Mercer Advisors.

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