How Much Money Should You Leave For Your Pet?

cat surrounded by pile of money

The right amount of money to leave your Pet Guardian to provide for the continued care, comfort, and safety of your pets in a Pet Estate Plan is different for everyone. It's not a stretch that this number could be $5,000 - $10,000+ , and of course we're all familiar with those famous celebrity pet gifting stories where pets receive multi-million dollar bequests.

Doing the math on how much to leave your pet is important. Nearly half of pet parents underestimate the cost of providing for their pet.

We'll show you how you can use a back-of-the-envelope approach or a bottoms-up approach to find the right number for you and your pet fam, and we'll identify three different options for gifting that money for the benefit of your pet.

Why Doing The Math On How Much To Leave Your Pet Is Important

According to Synchrony Financial's "Lifetime of Care" study, nearly half of dog parents admit to underestimating the cost of providing for their pet.

It's one thing to underestimate this cost during your life. For so many of us pet parents, pets are an integral part of our family and we hardly bat an eye swiping the credit card for food, grooming, toys, and other forms of pampering.

That carefree attitude may become problematic after you're gone, however.

There's already a huge pet protection gap of pets that go forgotten in estate plans. If you're a pet parent and don't have a pet estate plan in place with proper funds allocated for your pet, your pet's wellbeing could be threatened.

Too often, pet parents assume family members will step in to care for their pet and it's not the case. Or, in a more 'positive' scenario, failure to designate a pet guardian leads to infighting when different parties want the pet as a means of continuing to feel close to you.

Do yourself and your pet a favor by taking care of this planning and funds in advance.

Back-of-the-Envelope Approach to Determining How Much to Leave Your Pet

A simple back-of-the-envelope approach to determining how much to leave your pet is to research how much your type of pet or specific breed costs over their lifetime or per year (a simple google search should suffice) and adjust for the expected remaining life of your pet.

For example, to determine how much money to leave for an eight-year old golden retriever, you might take the one-year cost of dog ownership range of $1,270 to $2,803 from Synchrony’s “Lifetime of Care Study” and the upper end of 10-12 year life expectancy for a golden retriever to calculate that you should leave approximately $5,000 to $11,200 for your golden.

average annual cost of caring for a cat or a dog
Most pet parents report that the average annual cost of caring for their pets is between $1,270 and $2,803 for each dog and $961 to $2,487 for each cat. Source: Synchrony Financial "Lifetime of Care Study"

Bottoms-Up Approach to Determining How Much to Leave Your Pet

To create your own bottoms-up calculation of how much money to leave for your pet, calculate the sum of (i) the product of the average monthly cost of caring for your pet and its expected remaining life and (ii) a budget for emergency care or other extraordinary costs.

Returning to the example of the eight-year-old golden retriever, your regular budget might look something like this:

  • Food - $50 / mo.
  • Recurring health-related expenses (vet visits, medications, pet insurance, etc.) - $80 / mo.
  • Miscellaneous (toys, supplies, grooming, boarding, etc.) -- $50 / mo.
  • Total Average Monthly Expenses = $180 / mo.

Multiplying the $180 / mo. average monthly cost by your golden retriever’s 4 expected remaining years (48 months) of life, the expected cost of continuing to care for your pet is $8,640.

You may wish to supplement this allotment for recurring care with an amount for emergency care or other extraordinary costs not covered by pet insurance. We show in another article that a good target for this emergency pet care savings amount is between $1,000 to $5,000.

Summing the $8,640 recurring care cost with an emergency are allotment of $2,500, this illustrative bottoms-up approach suggests that you should leave $11,140 to fully cover the cost of your golden retriever’s continued care, comfort, and safety, which fits towards the upper end of the back-of-the-envelope approach.

How to Leave Money for Your Pet

Pets are recognized as property under the law, and therefore you can’t leave money or other property directly to your pet. You can, however, leave money or property for the benefit of your pet. There are three ways to do so:

  1. Make an outright gift to a human beneficiary
  2. Create a pet trust
  3. Create a free Pet Estate Plan

Making An Outright Gift to a Human Beneficiary

Making an outright gift to a human beneficiary is the simplest approach. You can do so through one of two ways:

  1. Through your last will or revocable living trust, which can be accomplished in as little as one sentence
  2. Through a gift to that individual during your lifetime, which will be tax-free as long as it is under the federal annual gift exclusion amount ($18,000 for 2024 or $36,000 if you and your spouse are making a joint gift)

While the outright gift approach is easy, the downside is that it is not legally enforceable. The individual to whom you give the funds does not have a legal responsibility to continue to care for your pet(s). He or she could take that money and spend it on whatever they like.

Creating and Funding a Pet Trust

In contrast to the outright gift to individual human beneficiary, a well written pet trust is a legally enforceable way to nominate someone to look after your pet, specify the standards of care that your pet should receive, and leave funds for the benefit of your pet.

If you are going to leave significant funds for the benefit of your pet ($20k+), you might consider a pet trust as a way to exercise greater control over the authorized use of the funds. If you are not planning to leave significant funds, however, you may find that the direct and indirect costs of creating and maintaining the pet trust are not worth the incremental protection.

Creating a Free Pet Estate Plan

The third option to create a free Pet Estate Plan mirrors the benefits of a pet trust without the associated administrative burden.

At the center of this pet estate plan is the Pet Protection Plan document, which is a legally enforceable contract between you and your nominated Pet Guardian. Here's how it works:

  1. The Pet Guardian agrees to receive and care for your pet upon your passing or your inability to care for the pet
  2. You (optionally) provide written instructions documenting the diet and exercise, medical, and other needs of your pet
  3. You provide your Pet Guardian a certain amount of money in exchange for maintaining your pet's wellbeing
  4. You (optionally) appoint a Plan Protector, a third-party individual responsible for validating that those wellbeing standards are met

You can notionally think of funds allocated to the Pet Guardian in a Pet Protection Plan as similar to a debt.

When you pass away, the Pet Guardian presents the debt to your Executor, who will be responsible for paying out the funds alongside your other debts and liabilities at the time of your passing.

Since the payment under a Pet Protection Plan is more explicitly defined as payment for service, if those standards are not met, your Plan Protector can take legal action as necessary to fix the situation.

How to Create Your Free Pet Estate Plan

If you’re a responsible Pet Parent looking to ensure the care, safety, and comfort of your pet no matter what, you should consider creating your free JIC Estates Pet Estate Plan.

Our step-by-step questionnaire covers all the important factors that go into creating a well written, legally valid Pet Protection Plan, and you can complete the whole process from the comfort of your home.

Most pet parents make their plan in less than 5 minutes.


Just In Case Estates is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, please use our legal expert matching service to connect with a qualified, licensed estate planning attorney near you.