The late Leona Helmsley reportedly left $12 million to her dog. For people who don't like animals, the idea of including them in a will is ridiculous. To animal lovers, it's a reassuring. Unfortunately, the law considers pets as property and one property can't leave property to another, including cash. But there are actions we can take to insure our pet's well being if they should outlive us. Read on to find out how.
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Be clear about what you legally can and can't do for your companion animal after you're gone. You cannot make your dog a beneficiary, your cat cannot serve as your executor and the $10,000 you bequeath to your African Gray will probably end up with a worthless relative who decides to challenge the will. You can, however, place any amount of money you choose into a special trust to fund the precise care you wish for your pet or pets – if pet trusts are recognized in your state.
Choose a trusted friend or family member to serve as trustee of the money you set aside for the care of your companion animal. It would be a good idea to assign a co-trustee so they can keep an eye on each other. You should also choose an alternate trustee in case one or both of the co-trustees pass away before your pet.
Make sure the people you choose to serve as trustees understand they'll be legally responsible to make sure the money is spent on your pet. A pet trust is not just a request. A pet trust is an enforceable trust and the pet is indeed the primary beneficiary.
Exercise your option not to leave your pet's care to a friend or relative since will or no will, it's never the animals who end up trying to get all the money. It's sometimes more prudent to leave a no-kill, non-profit animal rescue a certain amount of money in a will in exchange for lifelong care of a pet or pets.
Consider a provision in your legal document that any money left in the trust after the animal dies goes to a specific charity or is divided among several specific charities. This is smart because if someone challenges the will, they'll have to not only fight your estate for the money, but all the charities you've named as well.
Tips & Warnings
- The ASPCA.org provides a handy pet trust state laws chart in the "Planned Giving" section, but double check your state's requirements with an attorney before completing any legal documents.
- If you have multiple pets or plan to have additional pets in the future, you may wish to create a trust for all the pets you'll have in your lifetime, rather than a separate trust for each.