What Happens to My Pet if I Die? – A Question Many Aging Adults Face

Many people wonder what will happen to their pet if they die. This is particularly a problem for aging adults who are single, or whose spouse is incapable of caring for their pet on their own. If you have a beloved pet, there is some planning you can do ahead of time to ensure they will be cared for if you pass.

Create a Care Plan for Your Pet

One very wealthy man we know has four purebred English Springer Spaniel show dogs, and he has already hired a caretaker for them in advance. He is allocating $500,000 a year from his Trust for care of the dogs, including a salary for the caretaker.  The average person does not have that kind of money to spend on their pets, or that many purebred show dogs, but even creating a simple pet care plan can go a long way. Here are a few things you can do:

1.Have conversations with family or friends and choose a caregiver.

Is there anyone in your life that you know who is willing and able to take your pet when you pass? You cannot set up a legal pet guardian the way you set up a guardian for a minor child, but you can name someone in your estate plan that you would like to take your pet(s) if possible. Now is the time to have conversations with family members or friends and determine who the best choice is. We suggest you have a secondary choice in mind in case your primary caretaker cannot take your pet for some reason when the time comes.

2. Make provisions in your Will or Living Trust.

As our friend with show dogs has done, you can leave any amount of money you want for your pet’s care in either your Will or Living Trust. You cannot leave money specifically to your pet, but if you set up a Pet Trust, you can ensure that the money set aside for your pet will be used for their care and provision when you die. If you leave money for them in your will, it will be a request that your loved ones use the funds for your pet, but it will not be legally binding.

3.Record important information about your pet and store it with your estate documents.

Documenting important information about your pet, such as their health conditions, what kind of food they eat, how often they need to be walked or groomed, and more can help your pet and their caregiver make the transition after you pass. We suggest you record this information and store it with your estate documents where it will be easily accessible when it is needed.

[Related Resource: If I Should Die Before My Dog]

4. Create a contingency plan for your pet’s care.

Ideally, someone you know will be available to love and care for your pet the way you want. However, some people do not have anyone in their life to take their pet, or their pet caregiver is unable to take their pet when they die due to changes in their own life circumstances. You should have a contingency plan in the back of your mind and share it with your loved ones or personal representative. Here are a few ideas for creating your backup plan:

  • Give your family or personal representative permission to find a good home for your pet through connections in your community or church.
  • Allow your family or personal representative to use resources such as rehome.adoptapet.com to find a good home for your pet.
  • Talk with your veterinarian or local animal advocacy organization and create a list of shelters who have a high success rate of rehoming pets so they can take your pet when you pass.

What Happens to Your Pet If You Die Can Be Up to You.

We know that it isn’t pleasant to think about anyone other than you caring for and loving your faithful companion. But many pets go on to enjoy the rest of their lives, bond with others, and receive wonderful love and care when their owners pass. This outcome is much more certain when you create a plan for their future ahead of time.


If you need to set up a Pet Trust, or you simply need guidance on how to create a basic pet plan for when you pass, give us a call. We would love to help you prepare.


Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is the founder of Relational Estate and Elder Law, and he has been a practicing attorney for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law. He is licensed in both Virginia and West Virginia. Josh’s passion lies in helping people gain peace of mind about the future through holistic legal planning. When he isn’t meeting with clients or crafting legal documents, Josh enjoys spending time with his lovely wife, Jill, and their four vibrant children.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.