Pet Trusts, Pet Law, Dog Bites, and Power of Attorney for Pets

Pet Trusts: Long-term planning for your animal companion

By Christina Cottini

CoinsMany pet guardians consider their furry friends to be part of the family. Being part of a family typically entails inclusion in other family members’ wills. However, when it comes to writing a will or planning one’s estate, pets are all too often overlooked.

According to Chicago estate planning attorney Lindsey Markus (LindseyMarkus.com), 40 states and the District of Columbia currently have pet-trust laws enacted or statutes allowing for the creation of a pet trust.

Markus says, “Every pet owner* appreciates the emotional bond they have with their pet. But unfortunately the law views pets as property. Without proper planning, the decision of who should care for a pet is determined in the same way as who gets Aunt Martha’s vase. In order to ensure pets are properly cared for in the event of an owner’s death or disability, a pet trust should be established.”

Because pets are legally considered property, you cannot leave money directly to your pet in your will. Any provision requesting that someone take care of your pet is simply that—a request. The court system retains no power to enforce a pet owner’s wishes if just stated within the will.

It is imperative to establish a legally binding method of ensuring that your pet is cared for if you die or  become disabled. In addition to making informal, temporary arrangements for the care of your pet, you must also make formal arrangements that specifically address the long-term care of your pet. Opting for a written versus a verbal agreement helps to safeguard your pet’s future. Markus says, “The very grim reality is that each year hundreds of thousands of pets end up in shelters or—even worse—are euthanized because pet owners neglected to make formal arrangements for their care.”

To prepare for the unexpected now, there are several things you can do. First, find at least two trustworthy people to provide care for your pet. Make sure that these people have access to your home, instructions for the feeding and care of your pet, and the name of your vet. Your pet will be upset enough without you there, so plan to keep as much familiarity around as possible.

According to Markus, “Pet trusts are not just for the Leona Helmsleys of the world. More and more, clients recognize the need to plan for their pet’s care. Unfortunately, an estate plan with only a basic will is insufficient. All of the decedent’s assets would have to go through probate, the judicial process by which an estate is administered. Probate is costly, time intensive, and everything becomes a matter of public record. Most devastating for a pet—all probate assets are frozen. In Illinois, this is a minimum of six months. Thus, during probate, funds are not accessible to care for the decedent’s pets.”

A trust created separately from your will provides certain benefits. It can be written to exclude certain assets from the probate process so that funds are more readily available for the care of your pet. It can also be structured to provide for your pet even during a lengthy disability. Most importantly, a trust becomes effective at the date you determine.

Piggy BankIf your state allows the establishment of a pet trust, the first step in its creation is to name a trustee and a caregiver. These should be two different people to enforce a system of checks and balances. The designated caregiver receives regular payments over the pet’s remaining life dispersed by the trustee from a fund you set up, so you must determine the amount of money needed to fund the trust annually.

The level of care given to your pet is specified within the trust—you should provide comprehensive information, including details such as health history, eating habits, behavior, medications, special needs, and your wishes for final disposition of your pet. Make sure that you communicate detailed instructions for your pet’s food and diet; daily routine; favorite toys, games and activities; housing or sleeping requirements; personality traits; fears or bad habits; grooming; socialization; and medical care, including your preferred vet. Decide on the duration of your trust. There must be a time limit for the trust to be considered valid.

Being a guardian of a pet is more than just a privilege—it is a responsibility. Pets provide us with a multitude of benefits, and in turn we must ensure that they are receiving the best care we can give. By planning for the long term, we can ensure that our furry family members continue to receive the loving care they deserve if we are unable to provide it ourselves.

Pet Law and Dog Bites

“Pet law” is a broad term that encompasses many legal issues, including pet ownership*, animal cruelty, animal breeding, and animal estate planning. Legal issues regarding pet ownership may involve liability for injuries, property damage, and excessive noise. In most states, pet owners are liable for all personal injuries and property damage caused by their animals. As a pet parent, you have a responsibility to train your pooch so that he or she knows how to interact with people and other animals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five victims requires medical attention for bite-related injuries. Dog bites are a largely preventable health problem.

What to do if your dog bites someone:

  • Stay calm. Don’t argue and don’t accuse.
  • Ensure that the victim receives medical attention immediately, and offer to pay medical expenses.
  • Obtain contact information for every possible witness.
  • Be kind. Keep in touch with the victim to inquire about his or her condition, and express sympathy and compassion.
  • Tell the truth!

What to do if a dog bites you:

  • Identify the animal who bit you.
  • Get the name and address of the dog’s owner if possible.
  • Obtain contact information for every possible witness.
  • Take photos of your wound(s)
  • Seek medical treatment immediately.
  • Do not sign anything.

Basic safety tips for kids provided by the CDC:

  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Do not run from a dog or scream.
  • Remain motionless (“be still like a tree”) when approached by an unfamiliar dog.
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still (“be still like a log”).
  • Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.
  • Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
  • Do not disturb a dog who is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • Do not pet a dog without allowing the dog to see and sniff you first.
  • If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.

Why dogs bite—types of aggression that push a pup to pounce:

  • Dominance aggression
  • Defensive or fear aggression
  • Protective/territorial aggression
  • Predatory aggression
  • Pain-elicited aggression
  • Punishment-elicited aggression
  • Redirected aggression

If you are bitten by a dog, you should seek medical attention immediately. Upon receiving a medical evaluation, you may then consider consulting an attorney with experience in animal bite cases.

Your state’s law will dictate whether or not the dog’s owner is liable for the bite regardless of his or her knowledge of the dog’s tendency to bite. Several points are considered when deciding if an owner is negligent in a dog bite case, including whether or not the dog had shown any sort of previous pattern of violence and whether or not the owner had knowledge of that pattern. Generally, the liability in a dog bite case rests with the dog’s owner, regardless of whether or not the dog was on a leash at the time of the attack.

Some states have enacted “strict liability” laws, which make the owner liable for any bite regardless of his or her knowledge. However, in most cases, the issue of the owner’s knowledge is key, but even in states with strict liability regulations, the intentional provocation of a dog will often exempt an owner’s liability. An animal owner is not the only potentially responsible party in dog bite cases. Others include animal keepers such as kennels, a pound, or an animal sitter; parents of minors who are owners of the dog in question; property owners; and landlords.

Depending on the severity of injuries sustained from a dog bite, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage. Determining your legal rights can be complicated, so consider contacting an attorney with appropriate experience.

For more information on legal issues surrounding dog bites, visit DogBiteLaw.com.


The purpose of a Power of Attorney for pets is to give the person you designate (your “agent”) broad powers to care for your pet when you are not present for whatever reason, be it vacation, work, or incapacity due to accident or illness.


Q. What can I do to insure my pet is taken care of if I am not present or I am not able to be reached by telephone or text?

Q. Why is it necessary to put your wishes in writing, as opposed to just telling your pet caretaker what to do in the event of an emergency?

Q. What is a Power of Attorney?

Q. What is the benefit of having a Power of Attorney for pet care?

Q. How do I create a Power of Attorney for pet care?

Q. Is this going to be a difficult document to complete?

Q. What can I do to insure my pet is taken care of if I am not present or I am not able to be reached by telephone or text?
A. One thing you can do is to create a Power of Attorney for Pet Care (POAPC). This simple to use, easy to complete form gives a person you designate the written authority to carry out your wishes in regards to making any and all decisions with reference to your pet’s veterinary care and treatment, making necessary arrangements for your pet at any animal hospital, emergency room or other pet healthcare facility, including transfer to another appropriate veterinary service provider and including the removal from and transfer to another facility or service provider, the power to enter into contracts on your behalf for the benefit of your pet with any service provider or veterinarian, and to assure that all of your pet’s essential needs are provided for.

Q. Why is it necessary to put your wishes in writing, as opposed to just telling your pet caretaker what to do in the event of an emergency?
A. Putting the authority to care for your pet in writing eliminates any confusion that may arise in regards to your agent’s authority with respect to your pet’s care and treatment. For example, in the event of an expensive medical procedure necessitated by your pet being involved in an accident or a medical emergency, this document protects both your pet caretaker (agent) and the treating veterinarian. The agent is protected by your appointment in writing. The veterinarian is protected in following the direction of your caretaker/agent, based upon the written authority granted in the POAPC.

Q. What is a Power of Attorney?
A. Power of Attorney (POA) or letter of attorney in common law systems or MANDATE in civil law systems is a written authorization to act on someone else’s behalf in a legal or business matter. The person authorizing the other to act is the principal or grantor (of the power) and the one authorized to act is the agent or attorney in fact. The law requires an attorney in fact to be completely honest with and loyal to the principal in their dealings with each other. A Power of Attorney may be special or limited to one specific act or type of act, or it may be general in nature. Under common law, a Power of Attorney becomes ineffective if the grantor dies or becomes incapacitated. However, if the grantor specifies that the Power of Attorney will continue to be effective even if the grantor becomes incapacitated, this type of Power of Attorney is called a Durable Power of Attorney.

Q. What is the benefit of having a Power of Attorney for Pet Care?
A. The Peace of Mind Power of Attorney for Pet Care is based upon this common law principal. You, your agent and any person who relies on the document will know they are protected by an age old principle of law, which in this litigious society is very comforting.

Q. How do I create a Power of Attorney for Pet Care?
A. You can create a Power of Attorney for Pet Care, which is based upon the common law, by filling in the blanks on our pre-printed form using our convenient checklist. You will need to select a person to act as your pet caretaker/agent in your absence. You should also select an alternate caretaker/agent in the event the primary person is unable or unwilling to act.

Q. Is it going to be a difficult document to complete?
A. In a word, no. The POAPC consists of 4 pages, double spaced, with 14 blanks to complete. The document requires a witness be present and should be notarized. All in all, it will take you approximately 3 to 5 minutes to complete.

Courtesy of Peter Canalia, founder of Peace of Mind Pet Trust, Inc.
Visit POMPT.net for more information.

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