How to better protect your companion animal on your death

In the immediate aftermath of your perhaps untimely and unforeseen death, you would like your companion animal to be protected and looked after. In the normal course of events, if you died of old age or of a chronic illness, the executor of your will would take care of your cat or dog under the terms of the will. Or you’d have an informal agreement with someone you can trust if that person exists!

In some cases, an informal agreement with a loved one or close friend is enough to put the owner’s mind at ease, but in other situations, creating a pet trust is the best way to ensure that an animal will be provided for after the owner’s death — Orlowsky & Wilson Attorney’s at Law

Pet trusts
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Pet trusts are a very controlled way of protecting and caring for your pet on your death. Image in public domain (modified).

But if you were involved in an accident and the police were called to your home because your dog was crying out having been left alone for quite a while then, under these circumstances, there is a possibility that your dog might be taken to a pound run by the local authority where he or she may end up being euthanised. The same could happen to your cat. You are killed in an accident and your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat. The food runs out after day two so she goes out to forage for food and becomes a stray cat and is then picked up and taken to a shelter where she ends up being euthanised. Under these perhaps extreme and unusual conditions a companion animal can be protected if you set up a pet trust which is allowable under pet trust laws in all 50 states of the United States of America. There are similar pet trust laws in the UK and I’m sure in many other countries.

A pet trust provides a legal arrangement which specifies how your companion animal is to be cared for when you pass away. The strength of this form of provision for companion animal is that the funds are ring fenced and can only be used for the benefit of the animal animals referred to in the pet trust document together with of course the reasonable expenses and administration costs of the trustee.


Jennifer Deland a counsellor at law in Massachusetts explains to me how a pet trust would work in protecting your companion animal on your sudden demise. She says that you should leave a letter with the local police and animal control. The letter directs them to take your companion animal to a local veterinarian for boarding. The veterinarian might be named as a temporary trustee which allows him or her to pay the cost of your cat or dog’s care out of the trust fund account. All other resulting expenses in respect of caring for the companion animal could be paid for out of the trust. This series of events avoids possible intervention of animal control and the local authority. The situation is managed. Your companion animal is kept away from the possibility of euthanasia.

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Caveat: this is an introductory article on the subject of pet trust law. It is not meant to be anyway detailed and it clearly isn’t. The point of the article is that companion animal guardians should consider at least the possibility of a pet trust. If they like the idea they should explore it further in discussions with their local solicitor (in the UK) and lawyer in America.

I have a questionmark over the viability of leaving instructions with animal control and the police as advice. Think about it: you send them a letter in 2020 and you are run over by a car five years later. Do you think the police or animal control would be able to find the letter? Perhap, yes but I have doubts.

Your will

Of course, your will sets out how your assets and money is to be distributed on your death. It should include instructions as to what to do with your companion animal. Instructions under a will are not quite as strong in terms of protecting your companion animal as a pet trust. The executor has discretion and who is watching the executor? Will they carry out the terms of your will to the letter? Also, executors are often living some distance away from the deceased person and it may take them some time, certainly days and perhaps weeks to start getting involved in administering your estate. In the meantime what happens to your companion animal?

I like the idea of a pet trust with a letter deposited at animal control. “Animal control” as an American term. There is no equivalent, to the best of my knowledge, in Britain except for the local authority.

UK – immediate care?

In the UK, the advantage of a pet trust is that you could deposit a letter with the local authority perhaps or the PDSA to ask them to care for a companion animal out of funds from the trust on your demise. Local authorities have an obligation under the Care Act to pay the cost of companion animal care but it is limited as I understand it comes to no more than six weeks. The six weeks time limit can be extended but the cost cannot become “an undue burden on the local authority”. Here we have a good reason for a well-prepared pet trust fund combined with the kind of communication referred to in Massachusetts, America by Jennifer Deland. It may be beneficial to any reader (and their companion animal) who gets this far to investigate the matter further with their solicitor or attorney together with the local authority.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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