You cannot leave money or property to your dog, cat, or other pet in your will, but you can use your will to provide for them when you’re gone.
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Harsh as it seems, your pet is your personal property in the eyes of the law. This means your furry companion is just as much a part of your estate as your car or your favorite piece of jewelry. Unlike humans, your dog can’t have a bank account or own property. If you try to leave money directly to your pet in your will, it falls into your residuary estate.
The good news? As the “testator” (the person making the will), you can leave your dog as a bequest (a gift) to someone in your will the same way you can leave them your car. You can also request that the person who receives your pet under your will act as its caretaker or guardian. Keep reading to learn the few extra estate planning steps to provide for your pet’s care in your last will and testament.
Add a Pet Clause
A pet clause is a provision in your will that allows you to provide for the care of your pet after your death. But if you can’t use your will to leave property to your pet directly, how exactly does a pet clause allow you to provide for your pet’s care?
With a pet clause, you are leaving your pet to a beneficiary you choose in your will. The person you choose as the beneficiary of your pet is known as your pet caregiver or pet guardian. You can also include the amount of money you want to leave your pet’s caregiver to care for your pet, along with a request that they use the money for that purpose.
For example, let’s say you want to leave your Boston Terrier, Peaches, to your best friend, Katie. You also want to leave $1,000 for Katie to use towards Peaches’ day-to-day and veterinary care. Your pet clause might say something like, “I leave my Boston Terrier, Peaches, which I may own at the time of my death, and $1,000, to Katie Smith, with the request that the money be used for Peaches’ care.” You should also include the person’s contact information (for example, Katie) you choose to receive the pet under the will.
Keep in mind that your caretaker is under no legal obligation to accept the pet or use the money for the pet’s care, so it’s crucial that you choose the right pet caregiver.
Designate a Pet Caregiver You Trust
Choosing the person who will care for your pet when you’re gone is the most important step to making sure your pet continues to be cared for according to your wishes. You should designate a caregiver you know is responsible and trustworthy, preferably one who enjoys animals and already knows your pet. Maybe you have a neighbor, family member, or loved one that has a special bond with your pet.
Once you have someone in mind that you want to care for your pet, ask them directly before you designate them as pet caregivers in your will. Discuss the level of care you expect them to provide your pet and make sure they understand that under the terms of your will, they will receive the pet and a sum of money to use for the care of your pet after your death.
It’s also good to name a backup caregiver in case your original caregiver dies before you or refuses to take your pet after your death. Our do-it-yourself Last Will and Testament template lets you choose both a primary and backup pet caregiver, so you can ensure your pet is protected if your first option falls through.
Include Money and Instructions for Your Pet Caregiver
While your pet caregiver isn’t legally required to honor any requests you make for your pet’s care, it’s still a good idea to set aside money and care instructions for them in your will’s pet clause.
Consider day-to-day costs like food and flea medicine, annual vet bills, and emergency medical care. Are you a pet owner who prefers to feed their dog higher-end food with all-natural ingredients? How much do you typically spend a year on your pet’s vet care? The sum of money you leave should also reflect your pet’s life expectancy. Is your dog three or 13? Does your cat have any health issues?
Also, consider the care you want your pet to receive when you’re gone and request that your caregiver follow specific instructions. Maybe your dog has a favorite bone you give them to chew a few times a year, or your cat prefers clumped litter.
In any case, remember that any requests you make aren’t legally binding. If you’re worried about your caregiver refusing to properly care for your pet after your death, consider setting up a pet trust instead. Pet trusts create a legal obligation that your caregiver take care of your pet according to your directions. The downside is that pet trusts are more complicated and expensive to set up, so seek legal advice from an estate planning attorney if you choose this option.
Need Help Making a Pet-Friendly Will?
It isn’t easy to think about not being around to care for your pets someday, but drafting a will that expresses your pet care wishes can bring peace of mind that someone will take care of them after your death.
Save yourself time and money by drafting your own will online using FindLaw’s Last Will and Testament form. The customizable template includes a pet clause section with simple step-by-step instructions to name a caregiver (and backup caregiver) and choose the amount of money you want to leave the caregiver for your pet’s care.