Pets in Wills - Including Your Pet in Your Will

Hardly a day goes by without a commercial about life insurance policies, wills or other methods of planning for a loved one's future without you. We understand the importance in doing this for children, but what about our pets? Most of us take for granted that we will outlive them. While it is not a pleasant topic to consider, statistics don’t lie. The best estimate is that at least half a million pets are euthanized annually because they are predeceased by their owners. Imagine their confusion when not only does their beloved owner not come home, but they are yanked from their home, placed in a cold steel cage and eventually lulled into a sleep from which they will never awaken. It is difficult for us to be rational at the loss of one of our cherished pets, but as humans, we have the ability to reason – they’re in a better place, they’re no longer in pain, etc. Our furry friends lack this ability. It is up to us to make sure they are never subjected to such terror. One way to avoid this scenario is to make a provision for your pets in your will.

First of all, what is a will? A will is a document in which you specify what is to be done with your property when you die and names an executor and guardian for your young children. Most of us are relatively familiar with the traditional will, but we don't stop to think about how this affects our pets. Although they are a primary focus of our day to day lives, they are often little more than an afterthought in relation to legal documents and estate planning in general. This brings us to the next question - can you provide for pets in a will? This one is much more complicated and cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

Pets are considered property under the law so they can be included as part of a will. They can be bequeathed to Aunt Hilda just as if they were a piece of furniture or a tea set. They cannot, however, be the beneficiary of a will. In simple terms, a pet cannot be left the bulk of your estate (money, etc) since they cannot legally own property. You can leave money to Aunt Hilda and ask that it be used for your pet’s care, but she is not required by law to use it in any specific way. When you leave it to Aunt Hilda, it is hers. She gets to decide what she will do with it.

There is another problem with only providing for your pets in your will. A will is not in effect until your death. Depending on your estate, it may be weeks, months or even years before the details of the estate are finalized. What happens to your pets during this period or if you are merely incapacitated? In the midst of chaos, pets can be neglected or forgotten without written instructions in the hands of appropriate caregivers. If you choose to go this route, you should put something in place for emergency situations other than death and the interim period before a will is finalized.

Another consideration is that a will allows for you to leave your pets to someone, but typically does not detail anything beyond the bequest. There are no stipulations as to their care or lifestyle. In fact, the person who inherited your cherished pet could abandon them the following day and still meet their requirements under the law. Be very careful when deciding on a long term caretaker for your pets. Their lives depend on it.

Obviously, it can be difficult to adequately provide for pets in wills. Progress has been made and slowly, the legal system is realizing that many of us consider our pets more akin to children than Grandma’s china. Most legal professionals believe that the laws will continue to offer more assistance to Pet Parents to ensure our furry friends remain well cared for no matter what. Before deciding to provide for your pets in your will, make sure you have a good understanding of all of that is involved, including the limitations.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and am not offering legal advice either express or implied. The information contained herein is my own opinion based on years of research. While every effort is made to provide the best, most accurate and most current information, guarantees cannot be made. If you have questions and/or concerns, please seek the counsel of an attorney, financial planner or other estate planning professional.


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