Estate Planning With Pets

Who will care for your pet after you die? Can you appoint a guardian for your pet? Who will pay for your pet’s care? 

If you have a pet, these are questions you may have thought about. Fortunately, you can develop a plan for your pets in your estate plan. 

In Iowa, pets are treated as property under the law. This means that you cannot leave money directly to a pet or appoint a guardian for a pet like you can for a minor child. However, you can gift your pet to a new owner upon your death or set up a pet trust to care for your pet. 

Leaving Your Pet to a New Owner in Your Will

The simplest and least expensive way to provide for your pet after you die is to leave your pet to someone in your will. I recommend consulting the person you wish to name as your pet’s new caregiver and providing them with a copy of your will. This provides the new caregiver the legal grounds to take and care for your pet immediately upon the event of your death. 

In your will, you can also leave a sum of money to the caregiver to help with expenses associated with caring for your pet. It is always recommended to use someone you trust as the new caregiver as the money can be used at their discretion once they're the new caregiver of the pet.    

Creating a Pet Trust 

If you want more certainty that your pet will be provided for, you could set up a pet trust. This is a relatively new concept under Iowa law. The pet trust would last for the pet’s lifetime and would not only name a person to care for your pet but would require the money you leave them to be held for your pet’s benefit and to only be spent on your pet. You can also provide instructions on how to care for your pet. However, if you create a pet trust, you will have to estimate how much money would be needed to care for your pet during his or her lifetime and make sure you have enough set aside to fund the pet trust upon your death.  

Organizations that Provide Homes for Pets 

If you cannot find someone you trust to care for your pet after your death, there are some charitable organizations that will find a home for your pet or care for your pet for their remaining lifetime. For example, the Animal Rescue League of Iowa has a PerPETual Care Program which provides a home for your pet along with all food, medical, and surgical care for the remainder of the pet’s lifetime. However, programs such as this typically require a sizable donation (i.e., $25,000 for a cat or dog and $50,000 for a horse). The benefit is that oftentimes, this gift can be made as a bequest in your will or trust and does not need to be paid during your lifetime.  

As an estate planning attorney, I would be happy to talk through these options with you as part of your estate plan and make sure your pets are taken care of either through your will, trust, or by a charitable organization.