No one wants to plan for their end of life, but it’s a necessary evil if you want some say in what happens should you die or become incapacitated. After you pass on, an estate plan isn’t so much for you as it is for your family and loved ones– and that includes your four-legged friends.

It may seem unnecessary or excessive to include your pet in your estate, but it’s the only real way to ensure that your companion is looked after once you’re gone. Without a plan in place and a designated caregiver, your beloved animal could find itself in a shelter without a home.

If you like many consider your pet to be a member of your family, you have a few options for including them in your estate plan. Pet owners may consider adding their pet to their will or setting up a legal pet trust.

Putting your pet in your will

If you have a will, you can account for your pet in the document by leaving your companion and some money to a chosen caretaker. However, this option does have some limitations. While your instructions may include using specific funds to care for your pet, requests of this nature are generally not enforceable by the court.

For example, should you leave a family member a sum of money to care for your pet, there’s virtually nothing to stop them from spending that money on something else. For this reason, be sure you can rely on the caregiver you select for your pet and their needs.

Creating a pet trust

Trusts are complex documents, but they offer the most control over what happens to your pet when you’re not around. In a pet trust, you will designate a primary caretaker that will assume responsibility for your pet. You’ll want to choose someone who wants the job and can handle the responsibility.

You’ll also need to allocate funds for the future care of your pet, including medical expenses, food, toys and other unexpected expenses. The budget should cover your pet for the remainder of their life expectancy. You can even specify where you’d like any leftover funds to go to once your pet passes on.

To many, pets are more than just animals – they’re family. Including your pet in your will or creating a pet trust will ensure your companion gets the love and care they need when you can’t provide it.