Your Pets, Animals & Estate Plan


We all love our pets.  For some, our pets are treated as members of the family.  This is the way it should be.  However, it comes as a surprise to clients when they learn that in the eyes of the courts, pets are treated like any other piece of personal property when it comes to divorce settlements or to interpreting a deceased person’s will.  While we may love our dogs, cats, horses and all the rest, Pennsylvania and New Jersey law treats animals no different from cash, cars, or collectibles.

In terms of estate planning, there should be some discussion and careful planning about the care of your pets should they outlive you.   While this is true in the case of the more usual house pets like dogs or cats, it is especially true in the case of horses, or livestock that you may keep on your property, where there may be significant costs of upkeep, and physical requirements for the care of larger animals like horses or livestock.   The University of Kentucky published a detailed calculator for that exact purpose if you are interested, click here.

While you can’t leave your estate to your dog, you can either set up a trust or make a provision in your will that spells out your directions for the care and maintenance of your animals after your death.

Under a Will, and this seems obvious, your wishes can only be put into effect after your death.   However, due to the nature of the way the legal profession and the courts work, it can take months before your executor can put your wishes into action.

A Trust becomes effective the moment you execute it, so that situations like your illness or incapacity can be accounted for.   If something were to happen whereby you were unable to care for your animals and were unable to communicate your wishes, the Trustee would already be empowered to care for your animals.

Under the Pennsylvania Probate Code, you can create a Trust to provide for the care of an animal – but only an animal which is alive during your lifetime.  You can’t make a provision in a trust for an animal that hasn’t been born yet.   If you are a horse breeder, that potentially has huge significance.   Similarly, the Trust terminates upon the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime, upon the death of the last surviving animal.

For more information contact me at (610) 393-6763.

Bryan Tuk is an attorney focused on business law, family law & nonprofits and arts organization law.  To learn more, visit and you can follow him on Twitter @BryanTukArtsLaw.