Planning for Pet Care in Your Estate Plan

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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An animal is considered personal property under the laws of the United States and those of each state, and, unfortunately, can be disposed of in a person’s estate plan in the same manner as a car, furniture and jewelry.

To protect your pet, you must name in your will a person who is willing and able to take care of them when you die. If that person is also a beneficiary of your estate, and is completely trustworthy, you will likely not have to worry about paying for your animal’s care. But, if the caretaker is a specific individual or organization who would not otherwise be a beneficiary, the pet owner should also consider gifting an additional amount of money for caretaking expenses and/or to compensate the caretaker.

In many cases, an outright gift or bequest in a will may not be appropriate. What if the caretaker is unable or unwilling to take care of the pet? What if he or she spends the money elsewhere? The only legal device that can adequately address these issues is a trust.

Although a trust is preferable to naming a caretaker for your pet in your will, establishing a valid and enforceable trust solely for the benefit of a pet can be difficult because no human beneficiary is available to enforce the terms against the trustee.

If you are concerned about your pet’s welfare, consult an attorney who is well versed in the protection of pets as you plan your estate.

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