The Perfect Pet Trust: Saving your Dog from the Unexpected

This article is about pet trusts, the legal documents that secure an animal’s uninterrupted care. The goal is to guide the reader through the process of writing a definitive pet trust, and to highlight the potential mistakes and pitfalls that could invalidate these documents.

What is a pet trust? The Pet Protection Agreement® pet trust[1] allows an individual, the Pet Owner, to name a Pet Guardian and, if they wish, to leave funds providing for the continued maintenance of animals, in the event that the Pet Owner is unable to.[2]

The pet trust that is enacted by mention in a will only requires one simple sentence such as “I leave my dog to Jane Smith.” But a note of caution, instructions for care are unenforceable when the pet trust is triggered by the will.

A pet trust that is written by an attorney is created in their discretion, should be freestanding apart from the will and requires in addition to the pet owner and pet guardian, a trustee and funds.

The American Pet Products Association (“APPA”)[3] estimates that about sixty-two percent of U.S. households have pets, and an astounding $60.59 million dollars will be spent on pets in the United States in 2015.[4] This is three times the amount of money that was spent on pets approximately twenty years ago.[5]

Clearly, times have changed and attitudes are evolving.[6] An ever growing number of Americans consider their pets as more than just animals. According to The Harris Poll,[7] there is a tendency for people to elevate their pets to the status equivalent to that of a family member.[8] Just look at any Pet Owner’s smartphone and you will see photos of their pets, along with other family members.[9]

Because people are passionate about their pets, providing uninterrupted care for them is often a concern.[10] When something happens to a Pet Owner, such as an accident, illness, or death, a pet trust becomes especially critical.[11]

Sadly, if there is no legal document or binding plan in place, the court may make decisions for what it terms the abandoned animal.[12]
According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“ASPCA”),[13] approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year: 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.[14] Of those, approximately 31 percent (2.7 million: 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats) are euthanized.[15]

The concept of pet trusts is relatively new and it has received significant coverage in the press.[16] This developing interest has been dominated by celebrity cases, such as those of Leona Helmsley,[17] Oprah Winfrey and Joan Rivers, all of whom provided for the care of their animals.[18] What is not as widely covered is the explosion of like-mindedness among Americans who are just as interested in providing care for their beloved pets through the available, legally enforceable, entities referred to as pet trusts.[19]

Pets are the ultimate equalizer; regardless of the kind of pet, the wealth of the pet’s owner or the city they live in, Pet Owners need to secure the legal protection they need for their pets.[20]

The large number of pet trusts created each year in lawyers’ offices around the country, as well as through online services such as that help individuals create their own legal documents, is further evidence of the developing interest in pet trusts.[21]

There are three kinds of legal documents referred to as pet trusts as shown in the following overview and comparison chart:[22]



Will Only Valid AfterDeath

Freestanding Pet Trust Freestanding Valid During Life and After Death Pet Protection
Valid During Life and After Death
Must be drafted by an attorney No Yes No
Funds must be used for pets No Yes Yes
Court may reduce funds Yes Most of the time No
Must include funds No Yes No
Legal in all states No Yes Yes
Valid after Pet Owner’s Death Yes Yes Yes
Valid during Pet Owner’s Life and after Pet Owner’s death No Yes Yes


When a Pet Owner seeks the assistance of a professional, it is imperative that the advice provided regarding the choice of pet trust secures the pet’s future.[23] Attorneys need to keep up with legal developments in state statutes, legislation, and other laws pertaining to animals.[24]Lives are at stake.

My wish is to ensure that every animal is guaranteed a secure future. Everything you need to know about the three kinds of pet trusts can be found in the full article by clicking here.

headshot_Rachel__HirschfeldRachel Hirschfeld is a nationally renowned expert in estate planning and a passionate advocate for people and their pets. She is a frequent author and lecturer, often quoted in newspapers, legal journals and other media outlets including: ABC Nightline, CBS Early Show, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Today Show, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Dow Jones, Newsday, The New York Sun, Bottom Line Retirement, The National Academy of Elder Law Attorney’s Journal, Consumer Digest, and Fox News.   Ms. Hirschfeld’s lectures in continuing legal education have been selected for live web casting by Thomson Reuters’ publishing house. Ms. Hirschfeld has taught at Cornell Law School. Ms. Hirschfeld founded and co-chairs the New York County Lawyers Association’s Animal Law Committee.


[1] Created by Rachel Hirschfeld, this agreement © and ® 2016 Pet Protection Agreement LLC. All rights reserved. Patent pending.

[2] Rachel Hirschfeld, Frequently Asked Questions, PETTRUSTLAWYER.COM, (last visited Oct. 24, 2015) [hereinafter “Hirschfeld, FAQ”].

[3] Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics: U.S. Pet Industry Spending Figures & Future Outlook, AMERICAN PET PRODUCTS ASS’N, (last visited Oct. 24,


[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See id.

[7] Regina A. Corso, Pets Really Are Members of the Family, THE HARRIS POLL (June 10, 2011),

[8] Id.

[9] Stephanie Sindicich, 14 Signs You Are Obsessed With Your Dog (In a Good Way!), ONE GREEN PLANET, (last visited Oct. 28, 2015, 1:59 PM).

[10] Hirschfeld, FAQ, supra note 1.

[11] Id.

[12] Sharon L. Peters, Pet Talk: For Pets’ Sake, Include them in your Estate Planning, SPECIAL FOR USA TODAY (Dec. 17, 2010, 6:11PM),

[13] Pet Statistics: How many pets are in the United States? How many animals are in shelters?, THE AMERICAN SOC’Y FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS (last visited Oct. 27, 2015).

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Rachel Hirschfeld, Estate Planning Issues Involving Pets, GPSOLO (2009), [hereinafter “Hirschfeld, GPSOLO”].

[17] Cara Buckley, Cosseted Life and Secret End of a Millionaire Maltese, N.Y.TIMES, June 10, 2011, at A20.

[18] Joan Rivers’ Estate is a Prime Example of Proper Pet Planning, INSIGHT LAW (Oct. 8, 2014),; Scott C. Soady, Share Your Pet Trust Wishes With Family, SAN DIEGO ESTATE PLANNING LAWYER BLOG (Feb. 9, 2013),

[19] Hirschfeld, GPSOLO, supra note 15.

[20] Id.

[21] See Suzanna de Baca, Pet Trusts: Should You Leave Money to the Family Dog?, HUFFINGTON POST (June 4, 2013),

[22] Hirschfeld, GPSOLO, supra note 15; Why Do Pets Need a Pet Protection Agreement, PETPROTECTIONAGREEMENT.ORG, (last visited Nov. 16, 2015); What’s The Difference Between a Pet Protection Agreement® and a Pet Trust?, LEGALZOOM, (last visited Oct. 26, 2015).

[23] See Rachel Hirschfeld, Protect Your Pet’s Future: Pet Trusts and Pet Protection Agreements, PETTRUSTLAWYER.COM,’s_FuturePet_Trusts_and_Pet_Protection_Agreements.php (last visited Nov. 14, 2015) [hereinafter Hirschfeld, Protect Your Pet’s Future: Pet Trusts and Pet Protection


[24] Id. (for legal developments the author, an attorney, is following).


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