Who Will Care for Your Pet After You Die?

You can make a plan that will ensure a good life for your pet.

Although you can't leave money directly to a pet, there are several things you can do to make sure your pets stay well cared for when you can no longer take care of them. Here are some options:

  • Leave your pet (with some money) to someone in your will or living trust
  • Create a pet trust to leave money for the care of your animal.
  • Sign up with a charitable organization’s program to provide or find a home for your animal

Using a Will or Living Trust to Name a New Owner

The surest and simplest way to provide care for your pet after you die is to leave your pet (and some money) through a provision in your will or living trust.

If you do this, the person you name will become the owner of your pet and will receive outright any money you leave to him or her for your pet’s care. The new owner won’t have any legal obligation to care for your pet or use the money in any particular way. But as long as you choose someone you trust, this shouldn’t be a problem. You can leave instructions for your pet’s care in a separate document.

Learn more about naming a beneficiary for your pet in your will or trust on Nolo.com.

Creating a Pet Trust

A pet trust is an estate planning tool you can use to create a legal obligation to care for your pet. In the trust document, you name a person to care for your pet, you provide instructions for your pet’s care, and you leave money for that purpose.

When you die, the person named as trustee will get the money and the pet. However (unlike a provision in a will or living trust), under a pet trust, the trustee will have to follow your instructions and use the money only for the care of your pet.

Learn more about using a pet trust on Nolo.com.

Charitable Programs That Provide Homes for Pets

It's often tough to find someone both willing and able to take care of a pet. Responding to that need, a few programs have sprung up across the country to ensure that pets will have a loving home when their owners can no longer care for them.

Some organizations find loving homes for the pets of owners, others will care for your pet for its lifetime, if you make a large (commonly, around $10,000 to $25,000) gift. Here are a few of these programs:

Can You Have Your Pet Put to Sleep When You Die?

If you don’t want your pet to live without you, you can you write a provision in your will that directs the executor of your estate to have your pet humanely destroyed, but it might not work out the way you hope.

If anyone objects to the provision in your will, the probate court, which oversees the administration of your estate, will rule on the validity of the will provision. Almost always, these provisions are found to be invalid, and the court may forbid the executor from carrying out your instructions.

Courts have always frowned on wills that order the destruction of any kind of property, on the ground that it goes against public policy to needlessly destroy valuable property. Generally, the court's rationale is something like this: Someone leaves instructions in a will to euthanize a pet because of the worry that the pet will not be cared for properly or will end up in a shelter or somewhere worse. The owner wishes to prevent pain and suffering. So, if the pet is old and ill, or so attached to the owner that it couldn't adjust to a new home, the owner's request that it be humanely destroyed may make perfect sense. But if an executor has found a good home for the animal, and the animal seems well adjusted and well taken care of, a court may decide that the previous owner's wishes are best fulfilled by not carrying out the will's order.

Also, keep in mind that people who learn of your wish (your executor, other beneficiaries, family members) may question your motive for putting a provision like this in your will. They may wonder why you didn’t try to arrange for your pet to go to a good home and they may try to convince your executor or the court not to follow your wishes. So, if you truly want your wish to be followed, before you die, you should try to explain your reasoning to those who might intervene.

You can learn more about pets and estate planning on Nolo.com.

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