Pet-Friendly Planning: Protecting Your Pet When You Are Gone

My family was recently away for vacation and we had to leave our two dogs, Molly and Maisy, at home with our dog-sitter. It was a great week away, but honestly, we really missed our pups and couldn’t wait to get home. For those of us who own pets, it is an understatement to say that they share an important part of our lives.

According to the 2023-24 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 66% of U.S. households, approximately 86.9 million families, own a pet. This certainly represents an increase from when the survey was first conducted in 1988, it was 56% then. An earlier version of the survey estimated that in 2017, the total U.S. pet industry expenditures were $69.4 billion. We are even insuring our pets. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association reported record growth in 2017, with combined gross written premiums hitting $1.2 billion, a 23% increase over 2016 and representing 2.1 million insured pets. In 2022, total insured pets in the U.S. saw a growth of 22.1% and NAPHIA states that a total of 4.8 million pets were insured in 2022.

Our pets are family and accounting for our fur-babies in an estate plan is happening with greater regularity.

How does the law view our pets? While it goes against prevailing sentiment, our pets are technically considered personal property. That being said, animal rights and the status of pets in the eyes of the law are in flux, with Pennsylvania recently signing into law more robust animal cruelty protections and there are even some out-of-state jurisdictions that consider the best interests of the pet in divorce proceedings (PA has a bill recently introduced to address pet custody, but it has not yet moved forward).

Pet Trusts

The Pennsylvania legislature, and many other states, already recognized the importance of our pets in estate planning, when Pennsylvania became the 32nd state to adopt a pet trust law in 2006. The Pennsylvania Uniform Trust Act under Section 7738 provides that a trust may be created to provide for the care of animal(s) alive during the lifetime of the person that created the trust. The trust terminates upon the death of the animal(s) and the trust must account for any remaining funds, whether the balance be directed to family members or a charitable entity. There are many considerations when drafting a trust for your pet, including how exactly the trust should benefit your pet, the operating costs of the trust, and how the trust may be taxed, which are best addressed with your attorney handling your estate planning.

Alternative Family Arrangements

For many, a pet trust may not be the best option and alternative means for providing for your pet should be considered. Often, a family member or friend may be in a position to care for your pet, and it is prudent to have a discussion with the caregiver of what exactly that might entail. You might be comfortable with an informal agreement or it might make sense to draft a more formal agreement. The arrangement may or may not include financial assistance, whether an expense of your estate, a bequest under your will, or through a beneficiary designation under one of your financial accounts.

Alternative Animal Charity Arrangements

There are also ways to partner with charitable organizations that will undertake the care and rehoming of your pet which can be a good plan to ensure your pet does not end up at a shelter.Animal Friends of Pittsburgh
offers the opportunity for your pet to become a member of their Lifesavers Society upon your passing. By including a minimum gift of $5,000 in your estate plan, your pet will receive guaranteed care and be placed in foster care until he or she is ultimately matched with a new loving family. A similar program, Guardian Surrender Future Care Program, exists with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and requires a minimum gift of $2,500.

How Can We Help?

It is important to my family that Molly and Maisy are cared for in the event that both my wife and I pass away. If you would like to discuss your estate planning goals and how you might also provide for the care for your pet, the attorneys at Lange Legal Group, LLC are well versed in devising a plan that fits your needs and those of all your family members. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly at john@pghestateplan.com if you have questions about planning for your pet.

Originally published on August 18, 2018, this article has been updated on February 25, 2024 to reflect the latest statistics. 

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