A 1993 law, Section 2-907 of the Uniform Probate Code, changed the treatment of a deceased individual's pet from that of a piece of property to an entity that requires care. As a result, it is possible to ensure that your pets will be provided for after you pass away, not just by willing them to a trusted friend or relative, but through the establishment of a trust.
Pet trusts can establish a way to care for your pet after you die; they can also establish a way to care for your pet if you become unable to do so while you are still alive. The former is called a testamentary trust; the latter is called an inter-vivos trust.
Pet trust laws vary by state, and it's essential to understand these laws when providing for your pet. If you don't have a legal background, it might make sense to hire an attorney familiar with making legal provisions to care for pets after the owner's death. Both types of trusts establish who will care for your pet. They also appoint a trustee whose job is to ensure that your designated caretaker is actually caring for your pet.
A relative could challenge your pet trust in court, and if he or she wins the case, your pet may receive a smaller trust amount and your relative may receive the difference. You can prevent this outcome by paying for a pet retirement home while you are still alive or providing for your pet to receive care through an animal sanctuary. You can also attach a piece of real estate that you own to your pets, and provide for a caretaker to live rent-free on the requirement that he or she care for your animals. Another limitation of pet trusts is that they expire 21 years after your death, so if your pet's expected lifespan is longer than this, it may be difficult to ensure that they receive the care you desire.
Even if you don't want to leave your entire estate to your pet, you will probably want to make some provisions for its care after your incapacitation or death. Without a specific legal document that provides for your pet, the worst-case scenario is that it could be abandoned or taken to an animal shelter and put to sleep. Simply willing your pet to a trusted friend or relative, with contingent beneficiaries in case that friend or relative's death precedes yours, can be enough to ensure that your pet will remain happy and healthy when you are no longer able to care for him or her. However, if your goal is to leave your entire estate to your pet, consult an attorney who can help you establish a pet trust.