For the past 141 years, Americans have spent the week of Valentine’s Day admiring dogs at the Westminister Kennel Club (WKC) Dog Show.  And while the German shepherd stole this year’s crown, we know that all dogs, regardless of breed, are winners.

As Americans, much of our time and paychecks are dedicated to caring for and pampering our pups. And while we may estate plan for our children, homes, and other assets, we often forget about our most loyal companions: our pets! So throw your dog more than just a bone and ensure they are cared for if and when you become unable to do so. Below are The Probate Pro’s tips for pet-proofing your estate plan:

Pick Your People: Just as if you were choosing guardians for your children, we recommend having a conversation with the people you nominate to care for your pets prior to naming them in your Will or Trust. This ensures that the people you select are prepared to step up in the event you can no longer care for your furry friend. I also suggest naming a few different people. Your first choice may be willing and able to care for your pet at the moment you have this conversation, but may be unable to fulfill that promise when something arises. By naming a few people, it is more likely that one of them will still be able to care for your pet.

Divvy Up The Funds: Pet parents can designate a lump sum to the new caregiver of the animal(s) for food, shelter, grooming, and healthcare, and a certain amount is kept aside for emergencies. Depending on how many animals the plan covers and what special needs (if any) they have, pet parents might want to consider setting aside anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for the regular maintenance of their pet for the duration of its lifetime. Considering that regular pet care – including veterinary visits, food, boarding, grooming, and bedding – costs anywhere from $1,100 to $1,600 per year, that sounds about right.

Create a Trust: While a Will can instruct an animal to be passed to and cared for by a certain person, it does not guarantee those instructions will be followed. Aunt Jane can be given the cash and your dog, but it does not necessarily mean that she will use the funds appropriately.

A trust, however, does. With a Trust, the Trustee can distribute money to the pet’s caregiver on a regular basis as well as have discretion to make additional distributions in the event of an emergency. Notably, this can be made part of your Trust for the rest of your property. Likewise, if you have a current Trust, it can be amended for your pet.

How to Distribute Leftover Money: If your pet passes away before all of the funds in the Trust are spent, what do you want to happen to the extra funding?

The caregiver of your pet could receive the remaining funds of the Trust after your pet passes away. Others donate the remaining funds to pet charities, such as ASPCA, Angel On A Leash, or the Beagle Freedom Project. Maybe he was a rescue and you want to donate to the shelter from which you rescued him, or maybe she spent most of her days at a specific park and you wish to contribute to the facility’s maintenance. In this way, setting up a Trust for your pet makes both of your legacies last longer.

We Love Pet-Proofing Estate Plans!

Give your pet the gift of guaranteed love and comfort for the rest of their days by protecting them with a Trust. Please call our office at 248.399.3300 or email us at and any one of our estate planning attorneys will be happy to help you help your furry friend!