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What Happens to My Pets When I Die?

For many people, particularly the elderly, a pet is an important and comforting part of life, and the care and well-being of the pet is a primary concern.

With this in mind, there are three situations in which a pet owner should plan for the care of the pet.

The purpose of this information is to suggest various programs a pet owner can consider in order to provide for the comfort and care of his/her pet under any of these circumstances. In addition, this information includes information and sample Will provisions which may be useful to attorneys who prepare Wills for clients with pets.*


* This information and the accompanying provisions are not offered as legal advice and should not be relied upon without the independent advice of a qualified attorney concentrating in trust and estate matters.


  1. What happens to my pet when I die?

    Pet owners have several options available to them to ensure the care of their animals in the event of death or hospitalization. For more information about making provisions for the continued care of your animal companion, read Providing for your Pets.

  2. What is a pet trust?

    A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of pets in the event of a grantorís disability and/or death. The grantor is the person who creates the trust, which may take effect during his or her life or at death. For more information on pet trusts, see the Pet Trust Primer article.

  3. What are the Pet Trust Laws in my state?

    For the pet trust laws in your state, see our State Laws Chart in a related article called Pet Trust Laws in My State.

  4. What information should I provide the designated guardian and/or caretaker of my pet?

    It is important that designated guardians and/or caretakers know the following information about your pet:

    • Your petís habits (eating, sleeping, exercising)
    • Your petís personality (ok around other animals?, good with children?, etc.)
    • Your petís veterinarian and any relevant medical history
  5. Can I put my pet in my will?

    Yes, you can put your pet in your will. However, you can not name your pet as a beneficiary, because animals are legally defined as property. You can, however, create provisions in your will for your petís care.

    Under the laws of all 50 states, a pet owner cannot leave any part of his or her estate outright to an animal. However, the owner may leave a sum of money to the person designated to care for the pet, along with a request (not a direction) that the money be used for the pet's care. It is important for the pet owner to select a caretaker he/she trusts and who will be devoted to the pet, because the caretaker has no legal obligation under the above provision to use the money for the purpose specified.

    The owner should leave only a reasonable amount of money for the care of any pet. A large sum of money may prompt relatives to challenge the Will and the court may invalidate the bequest for pet care. The attorney may want to include an "in terrorem" clause in the pet owner's Will to reduce the chance of a challenge to the Will. This clause provides that if a person unsuccessfully challenges a provision in the Will, he or she cannot then receive property under any provision of the Will.

  6. How Do I Designate a Shelter or Charitable Organization to Care for My Pet?

    If no friend or relative can be found to take the pet, the pet owner should look for a charitable organization whose function is to care for or place companion animals. A humane society or shelter might agree to accept the animal along with a cash bequest to cover expenses. The charity should agree to take care of the animal for its life or find an adoptive home for the animal. Before selecting a shelter, find out what kind of care animal receive at the shelter (for example, an animal should not have to stay for more than a short period in a cage). If the organization is directed to find an adoptive home for the companion animal in its care, the pet owner should obtain detailed information about the adoption procedure.

  7. Are there precautions I can take regarding my pet in the event of an emergency?

    It is important for pet owners to have instructions for the care of their pets readily available in the event of an emergency. Pet owners should carry a copy of instructions in their purse or wallet with information on who should be called in the case of emergency, how they can be contacted and what arrangements should be made.

  8. As a multiple pet owner, can my pets stay together in the event of my hospitalization or death?

    Realistically, if you are an owner of more than two pets, it will likely be a burden on one caretaker to care for all your animals. It is therefore extremely important for you to find options for all your animals.

  9. Is there a limit to the amount of money I can leave my pets?

    Although there is no set limit as to the amount of money an individual can leave his or her pet, it is recommended that owners leave a reasonable amount of money so your request is not challenged by family members or invalidated by the court.

  10. Are there pet retirement homes?

    Yes, there are pet retirement homes. There are several sponsored by schools for veterinary medicineóPurdue University, Texas A&M University and University of Minnesota, to name just a few. There are other privately operated rest homes such as Best Friends Sanctuary in Kanab, UT, and Bide-A-Wee in New York. As a pet guardian, you must make your choice as to which situation works best for you.

  11. Is it possible to create a pet trust even if my state does not have a pet trust law?

    As long as you establish some connection with a state that has a pet trust law in your trust.

    For example:

    • the trustee may live in a state with a pet trust law;
    • the caretaker whom you have named in your trust may live there;
    • the retirement home that you have chosen for your pet is located in that state; or
    • you may own property in that state.



The ASPCA Legal Department provides counsel to the ASPCA and its staff. Although we cannot provide legal advice to, or act as an attorney for, outside organizations or individuals, one of our goals is to provide the public with information and resources that may be helpful in resolving problems. None of the information on the ASPCA's website should be construed as providing legal advice.

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