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Probate & Property

May/June 2024

What Attorneys Need to Know About Handling Pet Care in Wills

Robert Greene


  • This article delves into the key issues surrounding pet care in estate wills and the importance of handling these trusts with proper oversight and implementation. 
  • Two prominent pet care administration companies in the United States that have been aiding estate planners and attorneys in this realm are discussed. 
  • Essential steps that attorneys must take to ensure the proper fulfillment of pet owners’ wishes and provide practical advice on how to include pets in estate planning are outlined.
What Attorneys Need to Know About Handling Pet Care in Wills
GK Hart/Vikki Hart via Getty Images

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The increasing prevalence of pet trusts incorporated into estate wills presents attorneys with novel challenges and intricacies in their efforts to carry out their clients’ desires regarding the welfare of their beloved pets. Pet owners increasingly view their furry companions as cherished family members and want to ensure their pets are well-cared-for even after the owners die. This growing trend has led to the emergence of pet care administration companies that offer services to assist estate planners and attorneys in meeting the unique demands of these pet-related trusts.

This article will delve into the key issues surrounding pet care in wills and the importance of handling pet trusts with proper oversight and implementation. We also will explore two prominent pet care administration companies in the United States that have been aiding estate planners and attorneys in this realm. Furthermore, we will outline essential steps that attorneys must take to ensure the proper fulfillment of pet owners’ wishes and provide practical advice on how to include pets in estate planning.

Inadequate Oversight and Implementation of Pet Trusts

One primary obstacle in addressing pet trusts within wills is the lack of proper oversight and implementation. A significant number of wills lack adequate mechanisms to ensure that designated caregivers adequately fulfill their responsibilities in caring for pets. As a result, courts often find themselves grappling with untangling the details and resolving disputes when the wills are unclear or when caregivers fail to meet their duties.

To address this issue, attorneys must draft pet trusts with clear and detailed instructions, leaving no room for ambiguity. Caregivers must have a well-defined set of responsibilities and obligations to follow, ensuring the pets’ welfare is prioritized.

The Leona Helmsley Case: A Cautionary Tale

The notorious probate case of Leona Helmsley serves as a cautionary tale highlighting the potential complications surrounding pet trusts.

Leona Helmsley (wife of billionaire real estate magnate Harry Helmsley), upon her death in October 2007, left a pet trust worth $12 million to her miniature Maltese named Trouble. The will also included her grandchildren unequally, leading to a legal challenge. Two of her grandchildren were excluded from the will without any reason given.

Ultimately, the court decided to take $6 million from Trouble’s $12 million trust fund and give it to the two grandchildren who were initially disinherited. Moreover, Helmsley’s brother, who was named as one of the executors responsible for Trouble’s care, declined the responsibility, despite accepting his sister’s inheritance. This case exemplifies how a lack of contingency plans and clear instructions for caregivers can lead to confusion and conflicts after the pet owner’s passing.

To avoid such situations, attorneys must include contingency plans in the wills, designating alternative caregivers who will ensure the pets’ well-being if the primary caregiver is unable to fulfill their duties. Before the emergence of pet care administration companies, attorneys lacked a mechanism for conducting pre-screening of potential pet caregiver candidates. In the alternative, a monitoring team can be assigned to ensure that the pet caregiver is fulfilling pet care according to the wishes of the estate.

A Judge’s Ruling Sent Shockwaves to Pet Owners Everywhere

The case of Nancy Sauer sheds light on the difficulties in handling pet care in wills. Nancy, who passed away in November 2022, left $2.5 million for the care of her seven beloved Persian cats, wishing for them to remain together as a family. Because of resource constraints, however, the judge faced challenges in fulfilling this request during the probate proceedings. Consequently, the cats were handed over to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, with no guarantee that they would remain together as Nancy intended. It seems the will was poorly worded, and no pet caregiver was assigned.

This case has prompted many pet advocacy groups, like the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement (, to contact state probate courts to provide resources on pet care administration.

To address these concerns, attorneys should ensure adequate funding is provided in the pet trusts to cover the pets’ lifetime expenses, including veterinary care, food, and other necessities. In addition, attorneys must establish a mechanism for regular oversight of the pet trusts to monitor the caregiver’s compliance with the will’s terms and to assess the pets’ welfare periodically. Estate planners and attorneys can now contract with pet care administration companies to address these issues, such as pet caregiver monitoring and audit services.

So that a probate judge doesn’t ignore your client’s wishes, it’s crucial to avoid potential pitfalls associated with pet trusts in estate wills; attorneys must take several essential measures.

Clear and Detailed Instructions: When crafting pet trusts, precision is paramount. Draft these trusts with meticulous attention to detail, ensuring that instructions are both specific and unambiguous, leaving no room for interpretation. Furthermore, extend the clarity beyond the legal language by providing practical guidance that equips pet caregivers for their role. A comprehensive caregiver agreement should be established, outlining crystal-clear expectations and responsibilities that come with being a pet caregiver.

In addition to the caregiver agreement, a resource compendium should be included within the trust. This compilation of resources is designed to support caregivers, particularly when unforeseen circumstances arise. For instance, consider a scenario where the pet in their care unexpectedly becomes pregnant. This resource library should encompass information, contacts, and guidelines on how to navigate such situations. By offering readily accessible guidance, the trust not only anticipates potential challenges but actively empowers caregivers to provide the best possible care.

By embedding clear instructions within the pet trust and coupling them with a comprehensive caregiver agreement and resource collection, attorneys can ensure that the intentions of pet owners are safeguarded, while caregivers are well-equipped to fulfill their responsibilities even in complex or unanticipated situations.

Contingency Plans: Anticipating and addressing changes in caregivers’ circumstances is an essential aspect of effective pet trust planning. Caregivers are humans with life challenges that we all experience, and their lives could be disrupted by unforeseen events affecting their own health or personal situations. Recognizing this, a comprehensive trust administrator should prioritize the concept of “fairness” to pet caregivers. This extends beyond financial considerations and encompasses the emotional well-being of those entrusted with the care of the pets.

For instance, the provision of counseling services could be established within the pet trust, aimed at ensuring the mental and emotional well-being of caregivers. These services would be available to support caregivers in managing any challenges that arise during their caregiving journey. The associated costs of such services should be covered by the pet trust, reflecting a commitment to the caregivers’ overall welfare. By incorporating this holistic approach, the trust administration acknowledges the human factor and seeks to reduce pet caregiver turnover. This proactive measure not only benefits the caregivers but also serves to provide the pets with stable and loving care throughout their lives.

In parallel, it remains crucial to designate alternative caregivers as part of the contingency plan. By doing so, the well-being of the pets remains paramount, even when unforeseen disruptions affect the primary caregiver’s ability to fulfill her responsibilities. Through a combination of thoughtful planning, emotional support, and prudent contingency measures, the pet trust can ensure that caregivers are better equipped to provide enduring and compassionate care to the pets entrusted to them.

Adequate Funding: Ensuring proper funding within the pet trust is paramount to adequately cover the entirety of the pet’s expenses throughout its lifetime. To determine the appropriate funding amount, consider creating a comprehensive spreadsheet that analyzes historical expenses for your client’s pet as a starting point. This analysis should be combined with an assessment of the pet’s age in relation to the average lifespan of its breed, allowing for accurate forecasting of remaining years and associated costs. To provide an extra cushion, it’s advisable to add funding for two additional years of expenses, particularly in the event that the client’s pet lives beyond the average lifespan. The standard funding model should encompass veterinary visits, food expenditures, grooming, and any other related costs. Furthermore, an allocation should be included to cover the salary of the designated pet caregiver. This financial plan should be presented to potential pet caregivers for their approval, ensuring transparency and mutual understanding. Additionally, it’s prudent to establish a backup plan for any remaining funds in the trust once the pet has passed, outlining how these funds will be distributed or repurposed in alignment with the client’s intentions.

Regular Oversight: Establish a mechanism for oversight of the pet trust to monitor the caregiver’s compliance and periodically assess the pets’ welfare. The pet trust company and the client determine how involved they would want the pet trust company to be. Some options include placing DNA samples on file to help verify the pet’s identity, obtaining veterinarian reports for additional information, and conducting site visits for further evaluation. Clients may consider having a family member as the overseer instead of relying solely on the pet trust company.

Expert Consultation: Seek advice from pet care administration professionals specializing in estate planning involving pets to navigate the complexities effectively.

For your clients seeking to include their beloved pets in their estate plan, there are several options to consider:

Pet Trusts: Create a pet trust within their will, appointing a trustee to hold funds specifically for their pet’s benefit. Name a “protector” to supervise the trustee and an alternative trustee if needed.

Testamentary Gift: Have them bequeath their pet to a trusted individual with funds designated for their care. Ensure you include alternative beneficiaries and a clear plan for fund management. Pet care administration companies provide pet caregiver evaluation services to ensure that the chosen caregiver is the right fit. Pet care administration companies can also source pet caregivers for clients who do not have anyone in mind.

Planning for Incapacity: Include instructions regarding the transfer of the pet’s care in your client’s enduring or continuing power of attorney for property to address incapacity situations.

Immediate Care Information for Your Pet: Keep emergency information about the pet’s location and a contact person on the client’s fridge or the dog or cat tag so that person can provide immediate assistance in case of sudden incapacitation.

Ensuring a Lasting Legacy: The Role of Pet Care Administration Companies in Estate Planning

Pets hold a special place in our hearts, providing companionship, loyalty, and unconditional love. Pet owners naturally want to ensure their beloved companions are well-cared-for even after they are no longer around. Recognizing this need, a niche industry has emerged, spearheaded by pet care administration companies. These companies offer a comprehensive range of services aimed at helping lawyers establish sound afterlife pet care plans for wills, securing the future well-being of pets.

Understanding Pet Care Administration Companies

Pet care administration companies are dedicated entities that specialize in managing and coordinating various aspects of pet care within estate planning. Their role is to ensure that pets are cared for when their owners pass away. These companies offer a wide array of services, making it easier for attorneys and pet owners to navigate the complexities of estate planning involving pets.

Services Provided by Pet Care Administration Companies

Sourcing and Evaluating Pet Caregivers: One of the primary services these companies offer is to find suitable caregivers for pets left behind by their deceased owners. This involves conducting background checks, assessing qualifications, and verifying references to ensure the chosen caregivers are reliable and capable of providing the necessary care.

Managing Pet Trusts: Pet care administration companies assist in setting up and managing pet trusts. These trusts are designated funds specifically allocated for the care of the pets, ensuring that financial provisions are in place to cover their needs.

Pet Caregiver Site Visits and Audits: Regular site visits and audits are conducted to monitor pets’ living conditions and well-being under the care of appointed caregivers. This ensures that the pets receive the level of care they deserve.

Providing Alternative Pet Caregivers: In case of unforeseen circumstances, such as the original caregiver being unable to continue her duties, these companies have a backup plan. They can quickly provide alternative caregivers to ensure the continuous care of the pets.

Pet Temperament Evaluations for Caregivers: Understanding pets’ unique needs and personalities is crucial. Pet care administration companies can evaluate pets’ temperament and match them with caregivers who have experience handling similar traits.

Consultation in Court Cases: These companies can be valuable consultants in legal pet care matters. They offer their expertise and knowledge to support attorneys and ensure the pets’ best interests are represented in court.

The Key Players: LifePet.Care and Animal Care Trust USA

In recent years, a significant shift has been observed in estate planning and wills, with more attorneys seeking the assistance of pet care administration companies. The surge in demand can be attributed to clients’ growing requests beyond the traditional legal services scope. These specialized companies provide concierge-type services to cater to the complex needs surrounding pets in estate planning. In this case, one of the most pressing issues attorneys face is the predicament of pet caregivers reaching out after the client’s passing, asking to be relieved of the responsibility for continued pet care.

Currently, the United States boasts two prominent pet care administration companies: LifePet.Care and Animal Care Trust USA.

LifePet.Care: LifePet.Care, being a for-profit entity, caters to a higher-end clientele. It serves both the United States and Canada. It is known for offering a wide range of services to pet owners and attorneys tailored to their needs. LifePet.Care is a member of the Association of Animal Welfare Awareness (, which prioritizes ethical and compassionate pet care.

Animal Care Trust USA: Animal Care Trust USA operates as a not-for-profit organization primarily focusing on serving individual pet owners. Although it has an office in Oviedo, Florida, its website does not currently mention services provided directly to attorneys. Nevertheless, it may still play an essential role in assisting pet owners in securing appropriate care for their pets in estate planning.

The emergence of pet care administration companies fills a crucial void in estate planning, ensuring that our four-legged companions are well-looked-after when their owners can no longer be there for them. Their comprehensive services provide peace of mind to pet owners, who know their pets will be cared for in accordance with their wishes. As the importance of pets in people’s lives continues to grow, the services offered by these companies are becoming increasingly invaluable in securing a lasting legacy of love and care for our furry friends.

As pet trusts in the estate will become more prevalent, attorneys must be well-versed in handling the complexities surrounding pet care. Proper oversight, clear instructions, and contingency planning are essential to ensure these trusts are executed as intended, safeguarding the well-being of cherished pets even after their owners pass away. Pet care administration companies have emerged as valuable resources for estate planners and attorneys, providing concierge-type services to fulfill the unique demands of these trusts. Pet owners demonstrate their love and commitment to their furry family members by including pets in estate planning, ensuring they are cared for and protected even after the owners’ passing.

Disclosure: Robert Joseph Greene is the CEO of LifePet.Care. Mr. Greene’s company is mentioned as a resource in this article.