You can use the WillMaker will to leave your pet to someone you trust. You can also leave money to that person to help with the costs of owning your pet, although your will cannot force the new owner to use the money that way. If you want the new owner to be legally bound to use the money for the care of your pet, you will need a pet trust. (See "Setting up a trust for your pet," below.)

Using a will to provide for your pet is a simple and inexpensive way to make sure your pet has a caring home after your death. It is not the only way to provide for your pet, but most folks find that it makes the most sense.

However, if you plan to leave your entire estate—including your pet—to one person, there is no need to make a separate pet bequest. When you use WillMaker to leave everything to one person, that person will get your pet and can use money from your estate to care for your pet. Separately, you can leave instructions about how to care for your pet; see below.

Leaving Details About Your Pet's Care

In addition to naming a new owner for your pet, you may want to leave information and suggestions about your pet's habits and needs. You can use WillMaker's Information for Survivors and Caregivers form for this purpose, which allows you to leave specifics about each animal, including health needs, food and exercise requirements and sleeping habits. You can also use the document to describe memorial plans or final arrangements for your pet.

Setting Up a Trust for Your Pet

You can leave your pet money in a trust, managed by a trustee you name. The main advantage to creating a pet trust is that under a pet trust, the person who cares for your pet is legally obligated to follow the instructions you lay out in your trust document. However, for most people, this legal obligation is not necessary because they're confident that the person they name will follow their wishes without a court getting involved. An additional benefit of creating a pet trust is that it can go into effect quickly after death, or even before death if the trust is set up to cover the pet owner's incapacity. If you do want to create a pet trust, you'll need to hire an attorney to be sure the document is properly drafted and valid in your state.

Finding a Loving Home for Your Pet

If you're not able to find someone both willing and able to take care of your pet after you die, you're not without options. Programs exist across the country that help assure people that their pets will have a loving home when they can no longer care for them.

If you find an organization that interests you, carefully check its references (and perhaps its history with the Better Business Bureau) to make sure that the organization is likely to still be around when your pet needs it.

  • SPCA programs. The San Francisco SPCA was the first to offer a special service to find good homes for the pets of its deceased members. Other SPCAs have created similar programs. Contact local SPCAs and similar organizations in your area for more information.
  • Veterinary school programs. A small number of veterinary schools take in pets whose owners leave substantial endowments to the school. These programs typically provide a homelike atmosphere and lifetime veterinary care for the animals. Some examples include:
    • Peace of Mind Program, Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine
    • Cohn Pet Care Facility, Oklahoma State University
    • Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University
    • Perpetual Pet Care Program, Kansas State University Foundation
  • Private Organizations. There are also many private organizations that look after pets whose owners have passed away. Some keep the pets in their facilities for the pet's lifetime, others find new homes for those pets. Typically, they require a flat fee of a few thousand dollars. To find an organization near you, try doing an Internet search for "pet lifetime care" and the name of your city, county or state.