Can You Include Pets in Your Will? - Law and Daily Life
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Can You Include Pets in Your Will?

Can you include pets in your will? Sure you can bequeath your animals to others as property, but what about setting aside part of your estate for your pets' continuing care?

For many people, a beloved pet can be just as much a part of the family as a spouse, child, or sibling. When it comes time to write a will, carving out a piece of their estate for their favorite animal companion may seem like the best way to ensure their pet is taken care of after they pass away.

However, it's generally best to avoid leaving gifts to pets in your will. Why?

Animals Can't Own Property

As animals are not recognized as having the legal capacity to hold an ownership interest in property, naming a pet as a will's beneficiary would most likely fail.

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 are be 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 for owners of pets to more easily include their animal friends in their final wishes, 46 states have passed laws allowing for pet trusts.

Under these pet trust laws, a testamentary trust may be established for the benefit of a domestic animal, providing for its care. For example, in California, the typical pet trust names both a trustee and a caretaker for the pet. The trustee dispenses funds from the trust to the caretaker, who ensures the pet is taken care of as directed by the trust.

California pet trusts also allow for "interested parties" such as animal charities to bring suit to enforce the trust and to be allowed to inspect the premises where the animal is maintained.

To learn more about trusts and other types of estate planning tools, check out FindLaw's free Guide to Estate Planning.

  • Need help getting your family's legal affairs in order? Get in touch with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney in your area today.

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