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San Antonio Probate, San Antonio Estate Planning, San Antonio Elder Law

Paul Premack, Express-News Banner

San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009, Paul Premack
December 11, 2009

Plan now for the future care of your Pets

At various times, I’ve received questions on how to handle family pets as part of estate planning. Your dog or cat, or multiples of both, are an ongoing responsibility. If something happens to you – be it disability or even death – you want to be sure that your pets do not suffer.


Last Friday (12/11) the Hailey Foundation sponsored a seminar for lawyers on how to remember your pets and charities that support animal welfare in your estate planning. There were presentations by Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation and by the Humane Society of San Antonio, and on detailed legal options available when planning for your pets’ ongoing care.


While we are all at risk of sudden unexpected accident, the elderly and those with terminal illnesses must be particularly careful to plan for their pets. The primary option is to have a family member or close friend take responsibility for your pets. This should be arranged in advance, for both emergency response and financial needs. Provisions can be made in your Will or Living Trust to transfer custody of your pets to the new caretaker, and to provide money for food, grooming and veterinary care for your pets during their expected lifetimes.


If you leave a cash gift to the caregiver, there are no controls over the money. The caregiver could legally spend the money on a new car instead of providing for the needs of your pets. Even if you choose someone who you feel is very trustworthy, there is the possibility that your pets could be shunted aside, even euthanized, to preserve the money for the benefit of the caregiver.


You can solve that problem by separating the money from the caregiver. You can establish a trust in which your pet is the direct beneficiary so that focus remains on the pet, not on the caregiver. This arrangement is legal for any pet that was alive during your lifetime. You can set it up for “my cat Coco” but not for “my cat Coco and any kittens she may have in the future.”


The trust must end on the death of the pet or pets you had while you were alive. This makes a pet trust especially useful for long-lived pets like some birds which can live to be 100+. For ordinary cats and dogs, a pet trust will end in ten to twenty years, which makes it vital to specify a human to receive any funds that remain when the pet trust ends. If you do not select an ultimate beneficiary, the remaining funds go to your intestate heirs.


If you have no family or friends willing to become caretaker for your pets, there are several institutional alternatives. The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at Texas A&M will care for your pets in exchange for a sizeable donation. They have a fine reputation but are located in College Station, so the logistics might be difficult.


The two local organizations which made presentations at the seminar have also established pet adoption programs. Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation is best known for working to save injured wildlife and exotic animals. But they also provide sanctuary for household pets if no other alternative can be found. They can be contacted at 210-698-1709 and are on the net at


The Humane Society of San Antonio has a “pet guardianship” program. To enroll your pet, you pay a $500 deposit and answer questions about your pet’s personality and behaviors. Upon your death (or your disability, if it appears that you are very unlikely to return to your home) the Humane Society immediately provides care for your pet. They work to find a loving home for your pet, annually check on your pet, and agree that if placement does not work out they will reclaim custody of your pet. Their full fee can be paid when you enroll, or by your Executor, Trustee or via life insurance. The Humane Society can be contacted at 210-226-7461 or on the net at

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Disclaimer: This column answers a specific legal question asked by an individual in Texas. The answer may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat this column as specific legal advice, as it may not meet your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney.  You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue. Also, please be aware that laws change, so  this column is valid only as of the date it was published. This communication does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.


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