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Can You Include Pets in Your Will?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on July 07, 2014 1:57 PM

This post was updated on March 30, 2022

A beloved pet can be as much a part of your family as your spouse, child, or sibling. When it comes time to write a will, devoting a piece of your estate to your favorite animal companion may seem like the best way to ensure that the pet is taken care of after you pass away.

There are several ways to do this, but first, you need to be aware that naming your pet as a beneficiary is not a good idea because pets can't own property. Although there's been a push to grant "personhood" to animals, no state has gone that far.

This means that a gift of property left directly to a dog, cat, or other pet included in a will — such as "I leave $10,000 to my dog, Fido" — will most likely lapse. Lapsed gifts fall into the residuary clause of your will if there is one, or they are distributed under the intestacy code of your state, meaning your property will most likely go to the nearest living blood relative.

In most cases, your well-intentioned bequest to a pet will most likely end up going to someone or somewhere else entirely. So what can you do?

Pet Trusts Allowed in Most States

To allow owners of pets to more easily include their animal friends in their final wishes, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have laws allowing for pet trusts. The last state to pass a pet trust law was Minnesota in 2016.

Under these pet trust laws, you establish a testamentary trust for the benefit of a domestic animal, providing for its care. For example, in Connecticut, a typical pet trust designates both a trustee and a "trust protector" to act on behalf of the animal or animals named in the trust. The trustee dispenses funds from the trust to the caretaker, who ensures the pet is taken care of as directed by the trust.

In California, pet trusts also allow "interested parties" such as animal charities to file a lawsuit to enforce the trust and to inspect the premises where the animal lives.

Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

Estate planning — including making provisions to care for your beloved pet — is something you can do on your own if your estate is not complex. Through FindLaw Legal Forms and Services, you can name the person whom you are entrusting to care for your pet after you are gone in your last will and testament. Keep in mind that it is a good idea to let that person know ahead of time to avoid any surprises.

This will not allow you to create a pet trust, however, so if that's your intention, you will need to work with an estate planning attorney.

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