By Coleen Ellis

Ask any pet lover what they think of when they hear the name Leona Helmsley. The first thing that comes to mind for many of us pet parents is the inheritance that she left for her little adorable, and as the story unfolds, a bit cranky and feisty Maltese, named Trouble. Twelve million dollars to be exact. Yes … twelve – MILLION – dollars.

As the story continued to unfold after Mrs. Helmsley’s death in 2007, the courts decided that $12M was too excessive and reduced the amount to $2M. It seemed more reasonable to the courts that Trouble’s care could be covered by that figure. Or in other words, all expenses required to handle Trouble’s care needs could be handled with approximately $190,000 annually. And, Mrs. Helmsley had gone to the extent of spelling out HOW the money would be spent on Trouble as well: grooming, food, veterinary care for her liver issues, the security team and the care taker. The details of Trouble’s care were spelled out explicitly, down to the detail of the hand-feeding of crab cakes, cream cheese and steamed vegetables. Not to mention the demands made by Helmsley that her little Trouble would be referred to as “Princess.”

The story is always full of fun and laughs as the reporters invariably make sure to point out that two of Helmsley’s grandsons were taken out of the will. They were removed and the feisty little dog remained and ultimately scored big.

Some people, pet lovers and non-pet lovers alike, may consider this story ridiculous and absurd. Just another story of an eccentric old woman with too much money. And, at the heart of it, that might be true.

But there is a moral to the story. There is a part of this story that makes every pet lover raise an eyebrow and say “Aha!” While many of us may not have the checking account that parallels Helmsley’s, we do have something in common. We, too, want to plan ahead for our precious pets. We, too, want to make sure that our beloved animals are treated just like the rest of the family and that they are taken care of in the wills and other legal documents. We, too, want the peace of mind in knowing that our pets will not be sent to a local shelter in the event of our death but will instead have the benefit of living the rest of their lives in the same life style that they were used to.

We, too, love our pets with all of our hearts.

We, too, think that our pets are little “Princesses” and “Princes.”

Pet parents are finding great peace-of-mind in knowing that attorneys and other planning-ahead professionals are now proactively addressing the care of the animals. So, all preneed professionals, listen up! You now have another message that you can deliver to consumers who desire to preplan their funerals and are also pet parents – it’s a sizeable sub-segment!

What does this mean for a preneed professional?

Preneed professionals are constantly in search of new and effective ways to conduct lead generation and to bring a creative message for planning ahead to the market. Guiding families in how to take care of themselves as well as their pets will make for an incredible new marketing approach. Pet parents will WANT to hear this information, and you are a logical source.

An important starting point in this area of lead generation is actually the at-need business practices. Your funeral home and cemetery should be actively encouraging families to bring family pets to the visitation or funeral service; or at minimum, to mention them in the obituary. This will begin to give your organization the baseline information that will be required to begin an active program of marketing preneed for pets, or engaging an even more personalized post-service follow up that also references the pets.

However, as I generally do with articles like this, PLEASE engage this approach with a very service-oriented and genuine heart. If this marketing program is being viewed as merely a lead generation process and nothing more, you will most certainly damage your enterprise’s brand reputation. Pet parents want genuine and authentic assistance, not a company that will prey on them because of their love for their pet.

What will you do with the information now that you have it?

Knowing who the pet parents are in your data base of families will then give you another data point for families who may desire information relative to planning ahead for pet care. One of the next logical steps is to find a local attorney who understands how to appropriately structure the codicils of a legal documents for a family to specify the type of care and the funds necessary for to accomplish this the event of an owner’s death. This is important as pets are considered property, therefore, the codicils need to be done with that in mind to make a good, legal document.

Furthermore, allow pet families the opportunity to complete a Guide to Planning Ahead for their pets. Inform them as to what their options are in your market for a pet’s final arrangements. Even if you don’t ultimately service pet families with cremation or burial services, you can still be prepared with that information to help pet families make decisions in this area.
With the above information in hand, as well as an opportunity for a Guide to Planning Ahead for pets, the marketing avenues are plentiful. Consider these ideas for approaches to reaching families who may desire this type of information:

• Group presentations in concert with an attorney who arranges pet trusts to educate pet parents on these details. Mail information to your family contacts as well as the attorney’s data base of family clients.

• Consider affinity or co-branded group presentations for specific groups such as: Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Altar Society, Elks Lodge, Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, VFW, American Legion (Ladies Auxiliaries also) and so on.

• Target pet specific groups for this type of presentation as well: dog groomers, dog sitters, Veterinarians, vet techs, vet colleges, etc.

• Advertising campaigns for pet families with a call-to-action for families to request their free Guide to Planning Ahead for pets.

• Letters to families that have been served by your funeral home or cemetery announcing this additional pre-planning service.

• Point-of-Sale brochures for families

• Topics for blogs and social postings

Another interesting tidbit, Peggy Hoyt, an estate planning attorney in Oveido, Florida. Was a speaker at the most recent ICCFA/PLPA conference. She also proudly claims to be a pet lover devoted to helping other pet lovers protect their pets. For an hour, the audience was mesmerized by her informational talk and anecdotal delivery of what she is doing to help people plan for their pets. She mentioned that this part of her estate planning business is now organic to what she does: planning for people, planning for pets. If you’d like to learn a bit more about this, she also has an amazing book on the market: All My Children Wear Fur Coats – How to Leave A Legacy For Your Pets. What a great call to action idea or premium to offer from your funeral home for those families wanting to be educated on this topic!

These are just a few ideas of ways to educate families of this much-desired information. Families want this information. In fact, they feel like they NEED this information to fulfill their responsibility as a good pet parent.

Be the resource! FBA

Coleen Ellis HeadColeen Ellis is the Founder of Two Hearts Pet Loss Center. If you’d like more information regarding identifying and leveraging both individual and team talents and strengths, please contact [email protected]  or you may call 317.966.0096. You may also visit her website at