I Already Have an Estate Plan. What About My Pets?

Jan 16, 2023 | Estate Planning, Trust

I Already Have an Estate Plan. What About My Pets?


You’re a planner. You set out goals and you achieve them. You’ve got a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will, named guardians for your children, irrevocable trusts for your dependents, a health care proxy, and an advanced care directive.

But what will happen to your beloved pets if you pass before they do?

No problem. Just have your estates and trusts attorney set up a pet trust.

What is a Pet Trust?

You’ll recall that a trust is a legal document that allows a named party, called a trustee, to hold your assets on behalf of one or more of your beneficiaries. People typically use trusts to minimize any estate tax burden on their loved ones after they pass. Trusts are useful tools that can provide explicit direction on how your assets can or should be utilized.

New Jersey law provides for pet owners to set up a trust specifically for the care of their pet should the owner predecease the pet. A pet trust can be set up for any domesticated animal for the life of that pet or a period of 21 years, whichever comes first. Such a trust may be used only for the care of the named animal and is therefore protective of your designated pet or pets.

A pet trust should include directions for the use of any remaining funds after the named pet’s death. If no such directions are included, the trust funds will revert to your estate and be distributed accordingly.


Although most grantors-the creators of the trust, meaning you-do not endow a pet trust with excessive funds, it is a good idea to place a realistic amount of monies in the trust or a court may reduce them if they’re found “substantially disproportionate to their intended use.” NJSA 3B:11-38. One famous case in which this occurred was when Leona Helmsley left $12 million for the welfare of her dog, Trouble. A court reduced that amount to $2 million.


While it’s sound advice to seek assistance from your estates and trusts attorney, you can make sure to:

  1. Be clear that you are the owner of your pet. There are a number of ways to do this, including microchipping them and securing tags with your name, address, and telephone number on their collar.
  2. Name a guardian and a trustee for your pet. If you fail to do so, a court will make this determination.
  3. Endow the trust with enough funds to ensure proper care throughout your pet’s lifetime. This can include food, shelter, and veterinary care. Be as specific as you like with the details of your pet’s care, including pet food brand names and your preferred veterinarian.
  4. Include directions on what to do with any remaining funds upon your pet’s demise. One way to do this is to name a beneficiary, which could be a loved one, a charitable organization dedicated to pet care, or even a veterinary hospital.


Do you need assistance with the creation of a pet trust? For help with this or any other estates and trusts matter, please contact the law firm of Sussan Greenwald & Wesler at 609-409-3500.


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