Pets in your will: What you need to know

Published 02-18-2020

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Two-thirds of American households - 85 million families - own a pet. Whether a dog person, cat person, bunny or guinea pig or iguana person, you likely know this much is true: pets are loyal members of your family.

As a best friend and confidante, many will want their pets to be properly cared for in the event of an owner's death. Fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld famously left his Burmese cat Choupette a chunk of his estimated $300 million fortune. And Maria Assunta, the widow of a wealthy Italian property tycoon, left $13 million in cash and homes to her kitten Tommaso. But can you actually will your estate to your pet?

Animals are property under U.S. law. Therefore, even if listed as a beneficiary, they cannot inherit any other form of property - not your home or even a single dollar.

As an owner, you may actively seek a friend or loved one to care for your pet in the case of your death. However, these informal arrangements do not ensure, under the law, any obligation for the caretaker to follow your provisions. Be sure to clearly state in your letter of final wishes who shall care for the pet in the immediate aftermath of your passing.

If you have full faith in your designated caretaker, you may allocate funds to that person in your will. Otherwise, a pet trust offers a legally enforceable arrangement to better appease your worries.

Although pricier and with varying rules and stipulations across the country, pet trusts are typically one component of a larger trust document. You, as the trust settler, will leave funds to be allocated to a pet caretaker by a trustee. The trustee is legally obligated to ensure the funds are used by the caretaker in accordance with your wishes.

Forward planning could be overwhelming. Remember to enjoy the moments spent with pets and properly care for them while you can. Keep an eye out for these common foods you might not know harm your pet.

Forward planning could be overwhelming. Remember to enjoy the moments spent with pets and properly care for them while you can. Keep an eye out for these common foods you might not know harm your pet.

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