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What Will Happen to My Pet When I Die?

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Our pets are like our children in many ways. We love and care for them and treat them like family. None of us want to think about the day when Sparkey or Ginger passes over the rainbow bridge, but it will happen. But, what happens if you pass away before your pet? You never know what tomorrow will bring, so including your pet in your estate planning documents can be critical to their well-being and your peace of mind. 


As cold as this may sound, pets are not treated like children–there is no custody battle. Instead, Pennsylvania treats pets as property, so if you die without a will and trust, your best four-legged friend will be distributed like the rest of your assets. 

However, there are ways you can protect your pooch by setting up an animal trust.


In Pennsylvania, pet owners have the option to create an animal trust for their pets if the owner were to pass. Under Pennsylvania Statutes §7738(a) of Title 20 the creation and termination, enforcement and limitations of a pet trust are explained in depth. 

The statue explains that a trust may provide for the care of an animal during his or her life and terminates upon the death of the animal. If the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal, it is terminated upon the death of the last surviving animal. An authorized trust may be enforced by a person appointed in the trust instrument. However, if no such person is named, that individual is appointed by the court.

It’s important to know that if another person has an interest in the pet, he or she may seek court appointment if that individual has the legal standing to seek such pet custody.

Along with who you’ll want to care for your pet, you also need to set aside the funds to do so. Typically, this can be determined by assessing the age and health of your pet. But if you have family drama as was the case for Leona Helmsley and her pup, Trouble, the animal trust is not a way to swindle your family out of an inheritance. 

The judge will determine if it’s a reasonable amount of money in the trust of the pet. In many cases, when the pet dies, that money is distributed to the estate beneficiaries if there are funds left. 


When many individuals begin estate planning, they’ll consider their own death as the place to begin with burial arrangements. But don’t think you have to forget Fido in this. Many pet owners want to be buried near their pets when the time comes. Be sure to check for cemeteries and plots which allow for that. 

You then may want to think about creating a pet protection agreement that outlines if you cannot care for the pet, or you pass away, who is in control of your pet’s well-being. The pet protection agreement will include:

  • The new guardian of the animal(s)
  • Instructions for ongoing care
  • Healthcare directives and euthanasia
  • Pet power of attorney
  • Further instructions for the trust

This may seem like a lot to process. Luckily, The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) outlines what you should consider in your animal trust.

  • Full identification of your pet(s)
  • Details of your pet’s medical needs, standard of living, etc.
  • Who the beneficiary is if the funds are not used by the end of the pets life

We know you love your pet like family. Don’t leave them behind without care. Contact the Pennsylvania Estate Planning Attorneys of Fellerman & Ciarimboli to help plan for your future and Fido’s.


The estate planning attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli can guide you through all levels of the estate planning process with compassion and respect. We will work with you to make the process as simple as possible. We work hand-in-hand with financial advisors and other financial experts to make sure your finances are taken care of. Contact a Pennsylvania estate planning lawyer at Fellerman & Ciarimboli today to set up a free consultation.

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