Money and other property inherited under a will often comes with no strings attached. On occasion, however, the decedent may leave suggestions as to how money is to be spent or property to be used. Generally, the beneficiaries are not obliged to honor mere suggestions under a will, only those directions that would be upheld by law. A will may be structured, however, to provide continuing support for family pets in an attempt to prevent an unscrupulous beneficiary from giving the pets to a negligent owner or taking them to a shelter where they could be euthanized.
State laws generally consider pets to be personal property -- meaning they are not individuals in their own right. As such, pets are not entitled to inherit property under a will. As with other personal property, pets may be given or bequeathed to a trusted friend or relative who will care for them. An amount of money sufficient for their care may also be bequeathed or given to this friend or relative in the will.
There is generally a period of time between the death of the testator, who is the will maker, and appointment by the court of a personal representative. Depending on the circumstances, this period could be weeks, or even a few months. If the will so directs, a personal representative may authorize temporary or emergency funding to care for the decedent’s pets during this time and before the care-taking provisions in the will become activated.
Trusts for Animals
Although a pet may not directly inherit property, a will may contain provisions that establish a pet trust in which money is set aside and property held for the specific purpose of pet care and well-being. An individual may be designated as the trustee to manage the assets for the benefit of the pets. Designating a trustee -- who is different from the pet's caregiver and given authority under the trust to name a successor caregiver or remove an inadequate one -- offers another level of protection for the animal beneficiaries.
Pet organizations or a veterinarian may assist in locating a caregiver who will agree to care for or foster animals after the death of the owner. The pet owner and caregiver will generally reach an agreement regarding funding and the level of care before the caregiver is named in the will.