Can I Include My Pet in My Will?

Death is a fact of life. And though it may seem too sad to think about, we need to prepare ahead of time so that our family members and friends are protected. But what about your pet? What is going to happen to them after you go?

Young girl holding head of a Beautiful Border Collie dog
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You probably know that sometimes when an owner passes away, a family member will take a pet to an animal shelter. Many people want to make sure that this does not happen to their pet. Above all else, you want to make sure that your dog, cat, bird, fish or other pet will be safe and sound following your death, just like you would wish for any family member or friend.

When planning out how your loved ones will be able to carry out your wishes for your pet after you pass, make sure you do some legal research and ask your attorney the right questions.

Including a pet in a last will and testament

First, you'll need to look into what a will actually entails. A last will and testament is an official legal document that spells out exactly what you want to be done with your possessions and how you want to handle your dependents after you die. For example, you would indicate if you want your money and belonging to go to certain family members, friends or a charity, as well as the amount of money that will go and who will be responsible for the money. You'll also include information about the custody of your dependents, like children, if you have any.

Since a pet cannot own property, it's not going to do you any good to leave your pet any possessions. What you can do when planning out your last will and testament is to indicate who you want to care for your pet, who will be getting the money for taking care of your pet and what you want to happen to your pet after you're gone.

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Establishing a pet trust

A pricier but firmer solution for caring for your pet after you pass is to establish a pet trust. With this, you can set up a legal obligation for someone to care for your pet, as well as the funds to do it.

Along with noting who the caretaker will be and how they need to care for your pet, you'll name someone who will go to the court and enforce the legal obligation. You will also need to include what will happen to any additional money if the pet dies.

Precautions for including a pet in your planning

Your pet's caretaker is going to receive money to care for your pet, however, there is no guarantee that they will use that money appropriately. If the caretaker decides to spend the money on their own bills and not on your pet, there is legally nothing that can be done about it.

It's important that you choose a caretaker who is responsible, and that you have a backup person you can also trust in case the first one drops out. There are also organizations that will care for your pet after you die. These include Purdue's Peace of Mind Program and Kansas State University's Perpetual Pet Care Program (PPCP).

These programs are very expensive, however, so it may be best to ask your veterinarian or local rescue organizations if they can be of assistance instead. For instance, you may find a no-kill shelter or adoption agency that would be willing to take your pet.

Thankfully, there are many ways you can go about ensuring that your pet will be protected in the event of your death. Start planning as soon as possible to guarantee that your wishes will be carried out exactly as you please.

Dachsund
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Conclusion

While you cannot leave possessions to your pet, you can designate a caretaker to care for your pet in the event of your death. You can also set up a "pet trust," which establishes a legal obligation for someone to care for your pet, as well as the funds to do it.