Pet Trusts: Caring for Your Best Friends After You’re Gone

Girl with horse and dogs in field at sunset

Couple taking beagle dog for walk

Most people know that part of the process for estate planning is thinking about all of your loved ones and how you would like to provide for them after your death.

You want to be sure that your underage children have an appropriate guardian, that your favorite charity is given a share of your estate, or that your prized coin collection goes to your nephew who has always shown an interest in them.

However, a major part of many people’s lives are their pets, whether dogs, cats, or even a horse. Once you pass away, what will happen to your pet? Who will care for them? Where will the money for their care come from? How can you ensure that your pet is cared for by the veterinarian you trust?

A piece of your overall estate plan can include a trust in your end of life documents to ensure that the most important animal(s) in your life is provided for after your death. For quite a while, the question of the validity of a trust with an animal as the beneficiary was undecided. However, under current New York State law, honorary trusts for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal are now valid.

Veterinarian Care

Veterinarian with puppy and kittenDuring the lifetime of your pet you can specify the veterinarian who you would like to treat your pet and, when naming a trustee, provide who you wish to take care of your pet. You can also direct all remaining funds left in the pet trust to go wherever you may so choose when the trust is no longer needed.

Many of us have gone to a veterinarian and been shocked at the price tag that comes with caring for an important pet member of the family, be it the veterinarian’s costs themselves or the costs of medications for the pet’s ailments. Setting up a properly funded trust for your pet’s benefit can insure that whoever assumes the role of caring for your pet will not have to worry about how to pay for these costs that can become increase with the age of the pet.

Celebrity Pet Trusts

Pet trusts are routinely a subject of celebrities’ estate planning. Consider the following:

  • In 2002, reports said Drew Barrymore put her $1.2 million home into trust for her dog, Flossie. Drew bestowed this remarkable gift on Flossie after the Labrador mix barked and banged on Drew’s bedroom door to alert her of a fire in the house while Drew was sleeping.
  • In one of the more extravagant gifts to a pet on recent record, billionaire Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble. This gift was, of course, challenged by her human heirs, and the Court in that case decided that Trouble would only inherit $2 million. Trouble lived the rest of her life at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel in Sarasota, Florida, quite comfortably.
  • A more unique example of a pet trust, that shows the level of detail one can instruct, is that of Dusty Springfield and her beloved cat, Nicholas. Dusty’s instructions for the benefit of Nicholas included that he be fed imported American baby food, live in a 7-foot-high treehouse, and that a bed lined with one of her nightgowns be provided.

Some Things to Consider

So what will you need to think about when considering creating a pet trust? First, you will want to choose the person you want to control the funds you leave to your pet, the trustee of the trust. This person should have the same opinions about caring for your pet as you do, to ensure that the money you have left for your pet is used in the correct way.

The trustee could also serve as the primary care-giver to your pet, who you will name in your estate planning documents. Next, you can place specific directions for the care of your pet in the trust agreement. Does your dog prefer to have organic dog food? Maybe your horse is most comfortable in a certain size of stable. These, and an unlimited amount of other options, may be put in a pet rust agreement.

To learn more about setting up a trust for one of your beloved pets, contact one of the estate planning attorneys at Wladis Law Firm by calling (315) 445-1700 or by visiting our website

Why Do I Need a Living Will AND a Health Care Proxy?

Senior and young holding hands

One of the more common questions we deal with in the initial interview with many estate planning clients is why they need both a living will and a health care proxy. The answer to this question is quite simple; but a bit of background on what each document specifically does may be helpful.

Older couple talking to a female attorney in office

Your attorney can answer questions about all aspects of estate planning.

Health Care Proxy

The health care proxy is an important document that every person should have as part of their overall estate planning portfolio. Under a health care proxy, the person signing (the “Principal”) designates one Health Care Agent and as many successor Health Care Agent’s as the Principal chooses.

This Health Care Agent will make decisions regarding the Principal’s medical treatment in the event that the Principal is unable to make these decisions on her own, as determined by a physician. The Health Care Agent will not be able to make decisions before this determination by a physician and will not be able to make further decisions if there comes a time when the Principal regains the ability to make decisions.

Appointing the Health Care Agent allows you to control your medical treatment by:

  • allowing the Health Care Agent to make medical decisions as the Principal would have wanted;
  • allowing the Principal to choose a person who the Principal believes would make the right decisions; and
  • allowing the Principal to avoid conflict and/or confusion amongst the Principal’s family members.

This last point raises a significant facet of the Health Care Proxy; only one person may act as a Health Care Agent at a time. The Health Care Agent will likely be an individual that the Principal is very close with. Because of this, making some health care decisions will be a struggle for the Health Care Agent due to the close connection. This leads to the power of a living will and why a living will should always go hand in hand with a Health Care Proxy.

Living Will

The Living Will, when cut to its core purpose, is typically a written statement of the signee’s health care wishes when they are not able to communicate a decision regarding specific medical situations. Often, it is a document used to indicate that the signee either wants to stay on life support or be removed from life support when more than one physician determines the signee is in an incurable or irreversible mental or physical condition with no reasonable expectation of recovery. While New York State does not have a statute that specifically addresses the Living Will, the Court of Appeals (New York’s highest court) has stated that the Living Will is valid as long as is provides clear and convincing evidence of the signees wishes and the signee is 18 years of age or older.

Since the Living Will is an express declaration of the signee’s wishes and intentions regarding end of life medical decisions, it will override all other opinions, including the Health Care Agent under the Health Care Proxy. This can serve to relieve a Health Care Agent of having to make the difficult decision of whether or not someone would want to stay on life support when all signs point to no recovery. The Health Care Agent will simply indicate that the signee has a Living Will and not have to worry about making such an important decision. The signee will also have assurance that her wishes regarding end of life medical treatment will be honored.

The importance of having both a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will is clear. The Health Care Proxy ensures that you have someone to make decisions regarding your ordinary medical care during your lifetime if you are unable to make these decisions. The Living Will ensures that if you are in a terminal condition and are only being kept alive via life support, your personal choice concerning the continuation of life support is made plain..

Have more questions about Living Wills, Health Care Proxies or other estate planning matters? Contact one of the attorneys specializing in Estate Planning at the Wladis Law Firm by calling (315) 445-1700 or by visiting our website,