Pets & Wills

By Lisa Magloff

For many people, particularly the elderly, it makes sense to consider what may happen to a beloved pet in the event of their death. Although owners cannot leave their estate to their pets in a will, owners can use provisions in their will to ensure their pets are cared for. Owners need to take several factors into consideration when planning on including a pet in their will.

Designating a Caretaker

One way to ensure a pet is cared for after your death is to include a provision in your will bequeathing the pet to a friend or family member. The person who will receive the pet should be aware of your intentions in advance and agree to look after the animal. If no one available to care for your pet, you can find a shelter or other charity that agrees to care for your pet. In your will, you can bequeath your pet to this shelter, along with a cash amount to cover expenses.

Stipulating Funds for Care

Owners can bequeath money to the designated caretaker to pay for the care of the pet, but the caretaker will be under no legal obligation to use the money to care for the pet. In some states, however, pet owners can make a conditional bequest, in which the caretaker is required to spend the money on the pet. In this situation, it will be the executor's responsibility to ensure the pet is being looked after. The New York Bar Association suggests that leaving a very large sum for pet care may lead to a challenge to the will, with the court invalidating the bequest. To prevent this occurrence, the Bar Association suggests including a clause in your will in which anyone who unsuccessfully challenges your will is disinherited.

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Establishing a Pet Trust

Although animals cannot inherit directly, in most states they can be beneficiaries of a trust created to care for the animal. Two types of trusts can be used: a testamentary trust, which is created in a will and takes effect on the death of the owner, and an inter vivos trust, which takes effect while the owner is still alive. The trust names a trustee to manage the trust and ensure the animal is cared for. In most states, the trust lasts for the lifetime of the animal. In some states, pet trusts exist under a time limit; for example, in New York the limit is 21 years. If your pet has a long life span, you can name an animal sanctuary to act as remainderman for the trust. The remainderman takes the animal and any remaining funds when the trust expires.

Providing Transitional Funds

In many cases, a time lag will exist between your death and the execution of your will. If your estate is large or complicated, probate can take many months or even years. You can include a provision in your will that allows the executor to use funds from your estate to care for your pet while your will is in probate. Your will should specify that any money used for care of your pet should be paid from the estate as an estate administration charge. To spend this money, your executor will need a court to issue letters of administration. As these can take some time to obtain, you should also arrange for someone to look after your pet in the period between your death and the executor being issued the letters of administration.

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