5 min read

How to care for your pet when you die

Most people who have pets consider them like an extra family member. But what would happen to your pet if you suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Keep reading to find out how to make sure your furry friend gets the best possible care if you’re no longer around.

Woman with cat on her lap

What happens to your pet when you die?

Your pet’s future depends entirely on whether or not you specify a care plan within your Will. The more detailed instructions you leave, the greater control you have over your pet’s safety and security when you pass away. There are three main scenarios which may occur to your pet when you die.

  • If you die without a will (known as dying intestate) then the Supreme Court will nominate an executor to administer your estate. This person will decide what happens to your pet, in the same way they will split up all your other assets. Even if this person is a spouse or another family member you can’t guarantee they will understand your wishes and make the best decision for your pet.

  • If you have a will but you don’t appoint a pet guardian then your pet may end up the responsibility of your residuary beneficiary. This is the person who gets what is left after all other assets have been distributed.

  • If you nominate a pet guardian and leave detailed directions then your pet will be passed on to the beneficiary you have nominated. Provided this person follows the instructions left in your Will you should receive the care you want and be provided for using funds you allocated to the beneficiary.

What is a pet guardian?

A pet guardian is a trusted individual you nominate to take ownership of your cat, dog or other domesticated animal when you pass away. If you own pets you should consider nominating a guardian to take care of them in the same way you would nominate a guardian to take care of your children when you die.

How do I include care of my pet in my Will?

Even though you may consider your pet as a family member, under Australian law they are considered property. This means you can’t appoint them as a beneficiary in your Will and you can’t specifically leave them money to look after themselves when you die. What you can do is appoint a beneficiary who will adopt your pet when you pass away. This works the same way that you would appoint beneficiaries and specify what assets they will receive when you pass away.

You can also leave this beneficiary money to pay for your pet’s food, vet treatments and grooming requirements. You can leave detailed instructions telling your beneficiary how you would like them to use the assets you give them specifically for your pet’s care. However, these instructions aren’t considered legally-binding and there is no way you can enforce them. That’s why it’s so important for you to think carefully about who you would like to be your pet’s guardian.

Who should I nominate as my pet guardian?

You may like to consider choosing someone who already knows and cares about your pet. A spouse, family member or close friend may be happy to step in as a fur-parent if the situation requires it. It is important to consider what kind of lifestyle the person lives, their living situation, and whether or not the pet will be compatible with their pets, children, or living in an apartment. You should also have a discussion with this person when you appoint them as your pet’s guardian to make sure they would be happy to take on the responsibility.

Setting up a pet trust

Rather than allocating a set amount of money to your beneficiary in your Will you can create a trust to provide for your pet after your death. As mentioned above, the trust will need to be created in the name of the beneficiary you have nominated to care for your pet. In this situation they become the trustee. They will not only be responsible for looking after your pet but they will have control over the money contained in the trust.

If you decide to create a trust you should think about a number of factors when deciding how much money to place into the account.

  • Your pet’s life expectancy

  • Medication, vaccinations and veterinary care

  • Other expenses like food, cages, beds, toys etc.

The trustee will be legally responsible to use the funds set in the account for your pet’s care.


If you have a pet you should strongly consider leaving instructions about their care in your Will. If you die without a Will or if you don’t appoint a beneficiary to care for them when you pass away you simply can’t guarantee what will happen to your beloved companion. If no-one is willing to step in and help out they may end up in the pound or with an animal rescue organisation. It’s quick and easy to appoint a pet guardian when you create a Will with Safewill. Get started today. You might also like to consider leaving a gift to a charity which supports animals in need like the RSPCA when you’re writing your Will.

Last updated 24th December 2021
Louise Ayling
Copywriter & Content Developer
For Charities
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