Can Pets Inherit in Wills?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Can Pets Inherit in Wills?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Many pet owners think of their furry friends as a members of their family. When planning what will happen to your estate when you die, it is understandable that you want to provide sufficient resources for a trusted friend or family member to continue caring for your pet. While you cannot legally make your pet the beneficiary of estate assets in your will, you can create a pet trust to provide the necessary funds to care for your pet after you die.

Woman petting Dalmatian in field

Continuity of Care

Failing to plan for what happens to your pet after you die could result in your pet ending up in a shelter. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that between 100,000 and 500,000 pets go to shelters every year because their owners died or became incapacitated.

Consider including provisions in your estate planning documents that identify one or more caregivers for your pets. Planning ahead also allows you to create a legal mechanism so your caregivers have the financial resources to pay for your pets' food, shelter, transportation, and veterinary care.

Pet Trusts

As of 2018, the laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia include provisions authorizing pet trusts. These laws differ by state but generally allow state residents to establish one or more trusts to provide for continued care for pets after the owner dies. Pet trusts typically end when the last pet named in the trust agreement dies or after the maximum number of years specified in the law pass.

You can name your desired caregiver in your pet trust as the trustee, or you can name someone different. The trustee is the person responsible for using trust assets (the money you leave in trust for your pets' care) to provide for your pets' needs.

Planning Considerations

When creating a pet trust or otherwise planning ahead for your pets' care, put some thought into whom you name as caregiver(s). If you have more than one pet, think about whether it's best to name one caregiver for all of your animals or to separate them, naming different caregivers. You may also consider naming alternate caregivers, in case the first-named people are unable or unwilling to serve in that capacity.

Sometimes, people with pets aren't comfortable naming friends or family members as potential future caregivers. If that's the case, there are some charitable organizations that agree to provide long-term pet care or to rehome pets after owners die in exchange for a donation or fee. If you consider using such an organization, do your homework first to ensure you are comfortable with the organization's policies and procedures.

Planning ahead to ensure your pets can continue to receive love and care after you die is an important step for every pet owner. While you cannot name your pets as beneficiaries on your retirement accounts or life insurance policies and they cannot inherit through your will, you can create legal documents designed to provide continuity of care and support.

To learn more and to start creating your own will, trust, and other estate planning documents, contact an estate planning attorney licensed in your state.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.