Since dogs have a shorter lifespan than humans, we don't normally consider providing for dogs in the event of our death. But what if something should happen and our dog survives us? In the eyes of the law, your dog is an item of property—but to you, your dog is a family member. In order to ensure that your dog is well taken care of and goes to the person of your choice—you can make it legally binding in your will.
Talk to your relatives and friends and see who would be most willing and able to take your dog in the event of your death, and get their consent to be named in your will. Decide on an alternate choice should circumstances arise that would make the first person unable to take your dog.
Consider leaving the new guardian money for your dog’s care. If you prefer, you can leave your dog to one person and money for the dog’s care to another person to dole out in portions. This would be beneficial if the person who has your dog is receiving some form of public assistance such as Social Security Disability. A lump sum of money from you could cause their assistance to be cut off until your money is spent. Leaving the money to someone else would prevent this from happening.
Discuss plans for your dog’s healthcare with the guardian named in your will, especially if it’s an older dog that might require ongoing treatment. You have to establish what would be most fair to both the new guardian and your dog, and you may have to specify this in your will.
Tips & Warnings
- The Human Society of the United States has put together a free estate planning kit that includes forms and advice to help you design a will and make other estate plans for your pet’s care. You can order it through their website www.hsus.org/petsinwills, or call (202) 452-1100.
- A good source for information on estate planning for pets is the book "All My Children Wear Fur Coats" by Peggy Hoyt, J.D., M.B.A. (See Resources below)
- If you don't have someone who can take over as permanent guardian, certain humane organizations have continuing care programs for the duration of your pet’s life, provided they are named as beneficiary in your will, trust, or life insurance policy.