Include Your Pet in Your Will

Pet Tales

by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.


During my years in veterinary practice I have often had clients talk with me about how sad and difficult life would be when their pet dies and they are left alone. On the other hand, it has been much less common to have a discussion about how life would be for the pet, if the owner goes first. I believe this last mentioned scenario is something that should be thought about by any pet owner. It seems to me it's an important aspect of responsible pet ownership.


When she died in 2007, American hotel mogul Leona Helmsley named her little, white Maltese, Trouble, as her most rewarded heir. Trouble was left $12 million until a judge intervened and reduced the pup's inheritance to $2 million. It still left enough to maintain luxury accommodations for her favourite canine at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel in Sarasota, Florida and an around-the-clock security team to protect against dognapping threats. Other wealthy animal lovers have made similar plans for their pets. According to Woman's Day, Oprah Winfrey has reportedly established a $30 million trust fund to care for her dogs and other pets. Actress Betty White did the same with a $5 million fund. The late Michael Jackson left his pet chimp, Bubbles, currently residing at a Florida animal sanctuary, $1 million. Now, not very many of us are able to plan futures like this for our pets, but there are things we can do.


Making plans for a surviving pet should not just apply to senior owners in a pet relationship. As discussed here at other times, pets are living longer than ever before. When that new little puppy or playful kitten comes into our life, it's likely to be with us for the next 10 - 20 years. Few people, despite their present age, would be willing to predict with certainty what life might be like for them, that far into the future. Therefore, perhaps on the list of many things to think about when considering pet ownership, we should think about the possibility of our pet without us.


Most of us probably just assume that our parents or our children or another family member would take over caring for a pet, if something happened to us. However, sometimes that's a wrong assumption. There may be factors that would interfere with relatives taking over as a caregiver. Perhaps they have pets of their own that would interfere with a healthy, happy, blended family. Someone in the family might have allergies or other health issues that would negate a new pet in the household. It's possible that the personality or temperament of a pet, used to living in its own familiar lifestyle would make it very difficult for it to adjust to a new environment. Considering such a possibility, certainly increases the recognition of how important it is to have a well socialized pet. A dog that has been well-schooled in obedience training is much more likely to be able to successfully adapt to living with new people and new living conditions.


Taking care of your future involves good planning. Personal wills, living wills, power of attorneys, pre-planned funeral arrangements, all may be included. Whether planning your pet's future involves any of these more involved legalities or just some important communications with others will depend on you and your wishes. However, it certainly is best if some planning occurs. Discuss the issue with those you trust for good advice. Consider asking a family friend or relative if they could care for your pet if for some reason you were unable to do so. If a possible future caretaker is identified, It would be a good idea to arrange for that person to get to know your pet. Some bonding early on might be a big benefit for both the pet and its inheritor, later on. You may want to have input on how a pet is cared for, should it become ill or injured, by leaving specific instructions with them. If it is possible to have some funds set aside or a pet health insurance policy in place to help reduce future financial concerns, it can be very reassuring to the person agreeing to help you and your pet. Your veterinarian may be able to offer help or suggestions on some of these issues.


Life can be as unpredictable for our pets, as it is for ourselves. Great peace of mind can be gained by removing some of the unknowns of the future for those so important to us. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet tales can be found at