Leaving Your Pet in Your Will Won’t Protect Them – Do This Instead
April 24, 2023
If you’re a pet owner, you know the special bond that exists between you and your pets, and to many pet owners, our furry friends aren’t just a pet – they’re a loved and important part of our families. So if you’re thinking about how best to provide for your family after you die or if you become incapacitated, it makes sense for your beloved pet to be a part of the plan. You want your pet to continue to have the kind of love and care you provided during your life, but estate planning for furry friends requires a little more thought than you might expect. To understand why, it’s important to know two things:
- A pet is considered property under the law
- When someone receives a gift of property through a Will, that person can do whatever they want with that property, including your pet.
A Will Won’t Cut ItWhile you see them as part of the family, under the law, a pet is considered personal property, just like your money, furniture, and clothes. Because of this, you can’t actually leave money or possessions to your pet directly through your Will or Trust. Even if you try to leave money directly to your pet in your Will, the money will instead skip your pet and pass to the beneficiaries you named to receive the remainder of your possessions. Or, if you didn’t name anyone else, the court will give your possessions, including your pet, to your next of kin, as determined under the law. Worst of all, the person that receives your pet and money for its care through your Will has no legal obligation to use that money for your pet’s care or to even keep your pet at all. That’s why it’s so critically important to work with an estate planning attorney who knows the proper way to plan for your pet, so that when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved companion won’t end up in an animal shelter or given away to anyone you wouldn’t want raising your beloved familiar.
A Will Provides No Guarantees For Their FutureBecause you can’t leave money to your pet directly, your first thought might be to leave your pet and money for its care to someone you trust through your Will instead. While this is an option, it’s not guaranteed to work. That’s because the person you name as the beneficiary of your pet in your Will has no legal obligation to use the funds you leave for your pet’s care for that purpose. Even if you leave detailed instructions for your pet’s care, there is no law holding the beneficiary to accept the responsibility of caring for your pet or stopping them from changing their mind in the future after the court probate process is finished. You might be thinking that the person you’d leave your pet to loves them and would never think of abandoning them. But even if this person is committed to caring for your pet, it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might occur in the future that could make it impossible for them to provide for your pet for your pet’s full lifetime. For example, when you die, the new caregiver might:
- Live in an apartment or condo that doesn’t allow pets
- Suffer from an unforeseen illness that makes it difficult to care for your pet
- Have an allergy to your pet you knew nothing about
- Become so busy with work or family that they just don’t have the time to make a lifelong commitment to your pet’s care