IL Estate Planning Blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Estate Plans Don’t Have to Be Just for People

Estate Plans Don’t Have to Be Just for People

Picking a caregiver, possibly creating a trust, and other issues to consider for pets



Creating a formal estate plan for pets can help ensure that they won’t go to a shelter.


By Cheryl Winokur Munk

Nov. 5, 2017 10:06 p.m. ET


Last year, Nick Braun created a will for his human family. Soon after, he also made formal provisions for his dog, Gus.

For Mr. Braun, the founder of, a marketplace for pet health insurance, it was a multistep process to make sure his parents—Gus’s designated caregivers—have the financial support and practical guidance they need to assume care of the yellow Labrador retriever.

“You can’t just say, ‘Hey, Dad, can you take the dog if something happens?’ ” says Mr. Braun, of Columbus, Ohio.

While that’s exactly what most pet owners do (if they do anything at all), others say that creating a formal estate plan for pets can help ensure they receive a continuing and high level of care should you die before they do. It also could keep them out of a shelter, which is where many pets end up after their owners die.

Before setting anything to paper, here are a few things to consider:

1. Name a caregiver. Steve Wittenberg, director of legacy planning at SEI Private Wealth Management in Oaks, Pa., says that when clients think about choosing a caregiver for pets, they should consider whether that person is willing, capable and responsible enough to oversee the pet for the long term. Special accommodations may be needed if a pet has a long lifespan or atypical needs.

It’s also a good idea to name a contingent caregiver, he says. “Things change, and you always have to have a backup plan to minimize the risk that your wishes aren’t going to be met,” he says.


2. Set aside money. Pet owners should make a list of all of their pet-care costs, taking into account the pet’s expected lifespan. Donna Childs, of Warwick, R.I., added up the annual expenses for veterinary care for her two cocker spaniels, Coco and Henry, as well as their medications, monthly grooming, food, toys and a contingency for unanticipated expenses. 

A Dog's (and Cat's) Life

Life-expectancy guidelines, according to Dr. Erin Wilson, medical director of the ASPCA Adoption Center


14-18 years | In general, cats can live this long, provided that they receive regular veterinary care and are kept indoors.


12-15 years | On average, dogs live this long, although this can vary with size and breed. Generally, the larger the dog, the shorter the life expectancy.

Source: ASPCA

She multiplied the annual total by what she believed to be the average life expectancy for the dogs, arriving at a budget of $25,000 for lifetime care.

The next step is determining how those funds should be set aside. Options include a trust, a bank account controlled by an executor (or by the guardian) or life insurance. While the beneficiary of a life-insurance policy can’t be a pet, it can be a trust that includes provisions for a pet’s care or a trust specifically created for the benefit of the pet, says Gina M. Spada, a lawyer in Oak Brook, Ill., who advises clients on these matters.

3. Outline a care plan. By writing down clear, detailed instructions on how to care for the pet, owners make it easier for future caregivers to abide by their wishes. Mr. Braun and his wife made a list that includes the food Gus eats; how often a day he is fed; the name and contact information for the doggy day care he attends three days a week; where he’s boarded when the family goes away; and the information for his pet-insurance policy and his veterinarian. (The value of pet insurance is hotly debated, so owners should do their homework before buying it.)

4. Formalize agreements. Once the basic decisions about a pet’s care have been made, owners should formalize things to help ensure that their wishes are carried out.

Some people create a pet trust for their animals. These legal arrangements, now available in all 50 states, though rules can vary, set out very specific directions for the care and funding of a pet after its owner dies. Setting up a pet trust typically requires assistance from a lawyer.

Others provide for pets in their wills. An owner who goes this route should make sure someone can step in immediately to care for the pet, since executing a will takes time. What’s more, once the administration of an estate is wrapped up, the will’s executor has no continuing obligation to ensure the pet’s well-being.

A third option is to draft a pet-protection agreement, a legally enforceable contract between at least two people or entities—often the pet owner and the chosen guardian. This is a simpler, more-affordable alternative to a pet trust, experts say, because it doesn’t require an attorney to draft.

Formalizing and funding a plan are important to ensure your wishes are upheld, says Everett Sussman, a lawyer in Cheshire, Conn., who has assisted numerous clients with estate planning for their pets. 

“The idea is to protect the ones you love, whether they are family, furry or feathered.” 

Ms. Winokur Munk is a writer in West Orange, N.J. She can be reached at

Archived Posts


With two offices in Oak Lawn and Oak Brook, Stephen M. Sutera assists clients throughout Cook County, DuPage County and Will County IL including Chicago, Hometown, Barrington, Burbank, Burr Ridge, Chicago Ridge, Darien, Downers Grove, Evergreen Park, Geneva, Worth, Bridgeview, Palos Park, Palos Hills, Palos Heights, Hickory Hills, Midlothian, Willow Springs, Oak Forest, Orland Park, La Grange, Brookfield, Berwyn, Tinley Park, Hinsdale, Villa Park, Clarendon Hills, Westchester, Westmont, Lombard, Elmhurst, Western Springs, Berkeley, Downers Grove, Fox Valley, Glen Ellyn, Willowbrook, Aurora, Addison, Lisle, Forest Park, Bensenville, Wheaton, River Forest, Itasca, Shorewood, Frankfort, Mokena, Naperville, Crest Hill, Homer Glen, New Lenox, Bollingbrook, Schaumburg, Channahon and Woodridge.

© 2019 Law Offices of Stephen Sutera | Disclaimer
4927 W. 95th Street, Oak Lawn, IL 60453
| Phone: 708-857-7255
2021 Midwest Road, Oak Brook, IL 60523
| Phone: 630-396-6800 | 708-857-7255
250 Monroe Avenue Northwest, #400, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
| Phone: 616-717-5752 | 708-857-7255

Estate Planning | Advanced Estate Planning | Asset Protection | Pet Trusts | Special Needs Planning | Probate / Estate Administration | Elder Law | Business Law | | DocuBank | Staff Certifications | Legacy Plan | Healthcare Guides | Our Unique Process

FacebookLinked-In Company

Attorney Website Design by
Zola Creative