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Can You Leave Your Estate to Your Dog?

Can You Leave Your Estate to Your Dog?


February 10, 2018 Photos by: LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Lawyers recommend that everyone should have a will. And for dog parents, you have some decisions to make about how your pooch will be taken care of in the event of your death.

The only thing you can really expect with any certainty in life is the fact that it will someday end. No one likes to think about dying but the fact is that it will happen to all of us, some sooner than others. Planning for your future is incredibly important, especially if you have a family to look after. But what happens to your pets when you leave this world? Keep reading to learn how to ensure that your canine companion is cared for after your departure.

What Does the American Bar Association Have to Say?

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), pets are classified as property. You consider your dog a member of the family – maybe even your best friend – but legally he is the same as the desk in your office or the car in your garage.

If you want to ensure that your pet is cared for when you are no longer around to care for him, you’ll need to make specific provisions to ensure that this happens. It is unfortunate but true that thousands of pets end up in the shelter system each year because their owners pass away, not knowing that they needed to (or had the option to) make provisions for their beloved pets. Keep reading to learn how to legally provide for your pet in your estate.

How to Include Your Dog in Your Estate

When it comes to including your dog in your estate, there are two legal documents you can use. The first is your will – this is a document that serves as a guide for how you want your property to be distributed after your death. You have the option to name in your will who you want to care for your pet – you can also gift them money for his care. What you need to realize, however, is that the instructions in a will are not legally enforceable – you cannot legally require someone to care for your pet and any money you give them for that purpose can legally be used in whatever way the beneficiary sees fit.

Another legal document you might use to secure your pet’s care after your passing is a pet trust. A pet trust allows you to name someone to care for your pet and it allows you to assign a trustee who will distribute any funds reserved for that purpose and to ensure that the person you choose follows your instructions. This document is useful because you can assign a different person as the caregiver and as the trustee so you don’t have to worry about fights over funds. You can also use a pet trust to provide instructions for pet care if you are incapacitated.

Can You Leave Your Estate to Your Dog?

If you want to leave your entire estate to your dog, you are going to run into some legal challenges. First of all, know that most states dictate that the spouse of the deceased receives the entirety of the estate if you have minor children. If you have no heirs, it may go to your closest living relatives. If you want your entire estate to go to your dog, you can make that happen but know that unconventional wills are more likely to be scrutinized by probate judges. You’ll need to use the legal documents mentioned above to ensure your dog’s care and you’ll need to hire legal counsel to draft the documents needed to leave your estate to your dog.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor’s degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.


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