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How to Provide for and Protect Your Pet After You're Gone

There are approximately 65.1 million households who enjoy dogs as pets in the US. Don't fret all you cat-lovers, not to be outdone by dogs, there are approximately 46.5 million households with pet cats. There are about 83 - 88 million pet dogs and about 60 - 62 million pet cats. (See, American Veterinary Medical Association, 2018 and 2022 Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook)

With these numbers, it's not surprising that more and more people are concerned about how they can provide for their pet after they are gone. With state pet trust laws becoming increasingly common, it is easier than you think. For many people, their pet is considered a member of the family, so why not treat them as such and include them in your estate planning.

The Illinois Pet Trust Act was enacted in 2005 which allows people in Illinois to create a trust for the care of one or more of their pets. The Act allows pet owners to designate funds for the care of their animals while designating a trustee to manage the funds for the care, support and medical needs of their pet. A pet owner can even name a physical custodian for their pet. This can all be provided for in a pet trust. While you may also provide for your pet in a will, a trust covers not only when you die, but also in the event that you become ill or incapacitated.

What happens to the trust after your pet has been reunited with you once again? The Act provides that you are able to designate who will receive any left over money in the trust. If no such person is designated, the general or residuary beneficiary of your will would receive it. Or, if there is no such beneficiary, the remaining property in the trust would go to your heirs, which would be determined by Illinois intestacy laws. In order to avoid the latter two of these events, it is best to simply designate a person or persons whom you would like to receive any remaining trust property.

A note of caution that only what is reasonably necessary to care for the designated animal should be designated to the trust because the Act allows a judge to reduce the amount to what is reasonably necessary. This portion of the Act was included to address the issue of extreme wealthy people leaving millions of dollars to their pets. It was breaking news when Leona Helmsley left her Maltese $12 million dollars. In order to avoid the trust being legally challenged, it is best to leave what is reasonably necessary to care for your pet.

You may also leave provisions in a will for the care of your pet. These provisions can identify the person you would like to care for your pet and leave funds toward your animals care.

We can Help Plan for the Unexpected

Establishing a will or trust for the care of your pet after you’re gone will give you peace of mind. However, there are some additional steps that you can take now in the case of the unexpected, such as sudden illness, an accident, or even death. Many times, such tragedies lead to pets being forgotten or overlooked. What can you do to prevent this from happening? You can have written instructions in the event that you become suddenly ill, injured or incapacitated. These instructions should include the following information:

  • Who you would like to care for your pets, including their contact information;
  • Instructions for the care of your pet (i.e., food, medications, etc.);
  • How the person can gain access to your home;
  • The name and contact information for your pet’s veterinarian;
  • Who you want to adopt your pet in the event of your passing.

Take the time to make a plan for your pet in the event of the unexpected. Your pet’s love is unconditional – reciprocate that love by making sure they are taken care of.

The firm of Bellas & Wachowski Attorneys at Law can help you make the necessary estate planning decisions in a cost-effective manner. Contact Attorney Tracy Ries at tracy@bellas-wachowski.com 847.823.9030 x221 for more information.