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Have You Considered Estate Planning for Your Pets?

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Planning for your pets

If you’ve been responsible, you’ve already signed your own will and powers of attorney. Perhaps you’ve even signed a trust. Have you done any estate planning for your pets?

Taking care of your closest friends

We don’t mean to suggest you ought to write a will for your cat, or an advance directive for your dog. (Let’s talk about a trust for your tortoise, though.) We mean that you need to consider who will take care of your beloved pets. Who will pay for their care? And who will decide?

Perhaps you will go through a transition period. By that, we mean to suggest tha tyou might be unable to take care of yourself for some period of time. Do you have a care plan in place for your pets? Who will visit your home, take care of feeding, arrange new housing if you’re not going to be able to return?

What are your choices?

You could create a “pet trust” for your dog, cat — or any “domestic or pet animal”. That’s the language used by the Arizona statute allowing what are sometimes called “honorary” trusts. A pet trust must be for the benefit of particular animals, not a class of all needy animals. In other words, you could leave a trust for “all the dogs I own at my death”, but not “all the homeless cats in Tucson, Arizona.”

How much money do you have to leave in a pet trust? There is no lower limit. The upper limit? Well, a judge is permitted to decide that you’ve been too generous with your pet trust — remember “Trouble“? A New York judge reduced Leona Helmsley’s $12 million pet trust for her beloved Maltese. The judge decided $2 million should do just fine.

Pet trusts have long been a plot idea in books and movies. We wrote about “Rhubarb” five years ago — maybe you remember the movie. The reality, though, is that they are not very common in the real world. Most people come up with some other mechanism for taking care of their pets.

What planning for your pets is more realistic?

Most of our clients have pets. Most of those pets are dogs and cats, of course. The planning we most often see includes these elements:

  1. Naming someone to take, and take care of, the pets. Sometimes clients name an individual who will be responsible to find a new home — and not necessarily to take on the pet(s). That makes sense, particularly as the named person’s life situation changes. Your niece might be the perfect person to take on your cat right now, but when she has three children and household allergies, she’ll thank you for not mandating that she take the cat into her home. On the other hand, she might look around and figure out that she’s the perfect person to take Felix in.
  2. Leaving a fixed dollar amount to accompany the pet. You can try to figure out how much your aging dog might cost in food, toys and vet bills. You will be wrong. Figure out a number that is fair, and generous. Make the person who takes in Freckles even happier to do so, but don’t turn it into a financial prize. What’s the most-common number we see? $10,000. Followed closely by $2,000.
  3. Including pets in your power of attorney. Identify who will take over the daily feeding, make the decision to place them when it looks like you’re not coming home, arrange for them to visit you in the rehab facility (hint: late-night subterfuge might be involved). Make sure your power of attorney includes permission for your agent to pay those pet-related costs.

Dealing with especially long-lived pets

Do you have a cockatoo? Many can live to be 60 or older. A tortoise? Perhaps 100 years’ longevity. Neither would do well if turned loose (not that you would ever permit, or even countenance, such a thing).

You might want to include a provision referring to an appropriate specialty group. Perhaps Donatello’s veterinarian can help; she works with a lot of other tortoises, too.

In addition to leaving some money to help care of Pichatu (is that a great cockatoo name, or what?), you want to make sure to choose a compatible companion. You also should update your pet custodian names more often, we think, than you reassess even guardians for your children. Why? Because your pet situation and your friend situation both tend to change faster than your family situation.

We hope this helps you think about planning for your pets in a constructive way. We have one more suggestion: we really like a simple checklist offered by the Humane Society of the United States. Check it out. And give a treat to Cookie from us, please.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.