You might consider your pets “fur children,” but if you’re incapacitated or you die, the law will beg to differ. With actual children, the urgency of ensuring a smooth handover to a designated guardian is always recognized. Pets, in contrast, are considered property.

But your dog can’t wait in a safety deposit box for a will to be probated–and you can’t assume that, because your good pal Dave has always liked your pup, he’ll be pleased to take permanent custody.

What to do?


The best of intentions can’t prevent informal arrangements, even those promising remuneration, from falling apart. To ensure that your dog will be cared for in case of your long-time distraction or demise:

  • Choose a permanent caregiver
  • Put your wishes in writing
  • Put your money where your mouth is.

A will or trust that clarifies a caretaker’s responsibilities and specifies compensation is hard — though not impossible —  to wiggle out of.


  • Start with assigning a temporary guardian, who will serve as a transition to your designated long-term caregiver. See my previous post for details about how to choose that guardian and make your wishes known.
  • Work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust, or other document to provide for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money necessary to care for her. That attorney needs to know the laws regarding pet dispensation in your state and, preferably, should have a pet.  Try not to be speciesist. Many good attorneys have cats rather than dogs.
  • If you live in one of the 37 states that allow for the establishment of a pet trust — check regarding this and other pet legal issues — this is your best option. It eliminates the need to wait until your will is probated for the guardianship arrangement to take effect. A living trust might be even better, as it allows you to arrange for the guardianship to kick in before you kick off (say, if you’re in a coma for more than a month).

The comprehensive “Providing for Your Pet’s Future Without You” section of the Humane Society’s website goes into greater detail.


As with temporary arrangements, choose people who like and have cared for pets in general and your pet in particular.

Of course, there are no guarantees of compliance if circumstances change, so keep in close touch with your designated guardian. My best friend, Clare, agreed long ago to take Frankie in if anything should happen to me, but after he was diagnosed with diabetes I asked her again. She assured me that nothing had changed, and I believe her. It doesn’t hurt that Clare is the executor of my estate and therefore will be in charge of my money, and that, although she is the most lapsed Catholic I know, she’s aware that she will go to hell if Frankie should be made unhappy.

Speaking of which, if you’re convinced that your dog will be so distraught when you die that he needs to be euthanized, and you include a clause to that effect in your will, there’s a good chance that it will not stand up in court. And that you will go to hell.

13 thoughts on “Where there’s a will… Assigning pet care, 2”

  1. Glad to hear that your friend will wind up in hell if Frankie is unhappy. It really is a scary thought that our pets would be uncared for. However, taking action–as you suggest–is the right course to follow.

    1. Luckily I never have to worry about Clare’s immortal soul — she loves Frankie second only to her dog Archie (who is an extremely lovable pup).

  2. Hi Edie,

    This is some very important information. It is not pleasant to think about death but it is one of those things we should prepare for.

    I consider myself relatively young and healthy, but so is my dog. She still has at least another 12 – 13 years left. If something should happen to me tomorrow I need to know that she will taken care of.

    These were some great tips.


  3. Happy to say that our dogs, their designated caregiver, and a sum of canine currency to take care of them are all covered in our will. Isn’t the point of having a will that you avoid probate?

    1. Oh dear, Rod, I’m a little worried about the canine currency. You’re not paying your designated caregiver in bones, are you?

      Making a will doesn’t avoid probate — quite the opposite. That’s why a trust is better in most cases.

  4. I forgot to include my primary point for commenting! Your last two posts are a call to action for all pet owners who have not thought of how their dogs and cats will be cared for if/when the situation arises. I hope you find a way to create a national awareness for this need.

    PS – There is no hell 🙂

    1. Yes, it’s a subject most of us don’t like to think about. Maybe I can start a national “There is no hell” campaign that’s tied into the topic, though I think some people need a fear incentive to do the right thing.

  5. Love the “you will go to hell” bits!!! It’s important to have a clause where your attorney must follow up to see how and if the dog has settled in, or if the dog is there at all. I hate to say it, and I’ve really hated to see it, but daughters have turned their own mother’s beloved pet into the shelter. No idea if they got all the money first, or if there was any. But between that and the upending of Helmsley’s last wishes–however excessive–in a State where pet trusts were legal gave me pause, however poorly written her document may have been. So I’ve seen people who will definitely be going to hell and broken hearted little fluffy dogs and cats who were not holy terrors but whose human’s best intentions just didn’t work out for them. Of course they got into a no-kill but so many others have not.

    In spite of this, I still absolutely advocate for drawing up a trust for your dog or whatever your State will recognize as a legal document. Thanks, Edie, for bringing up this important failsafe for out precious pooches:)

    1. I always think I’ve heard everything, and can’t be shocked by people’s behavior — but I am in this case. The disrespect for the departed loved one is appalling. I think your point about the follow up clause is excellent. There are no guarantees but putting as many enforcements into effect as possible is a good idea.

      I didn’t realize that Helmsley’s will was so poorly written. I’m glad she has such powerful groups as the ASPCA, Maddie’s Fund, and HSUS contesting the trustees who are attempting to subvert her wish to distribute her money to animal welfare causes. I posted about the issue earlier; see I’ll be interested to see the results of their lawsuit.

  6. Edie, you’re caught in the triple-threat of my being Frankie’s guardian in waiting, your executor, and your lawyer. But none of your readers need worry: you and I know that, were I to fail to elevate Frankie above all mortals (and to the level of Archie) in my care and affections, I wouldn’t need hell…I’d have the omnipotent curse of GUILT.

    1. You’re right, since I wouldn’t be around to operate this guilt-free zone, you’d have no escape route!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *