Your pets are like members of your family, and you want what’s best for them—even if you were to suddenly become unable to care for them or die unexpectedly. You can’t leave money to your pets in a will because the law considers animals to be property, but you can include your wishes for their care in your estate plan. At The Ashmore Law Firm, our estate planning lawyers understand how you feel about your pets, and we can provide a range of options for including them in your Texas estate plan.
What You Can Do to Provide for Your Pets After You Are Gone
An estate plan provides an opportunity for you to express your wishes about how you and your property will be cared for if you become incapacitated and what should happen upon your death. Since pets are considered property by the law, instructions for what should happen to them can be included in your will as they are for your other valuable property.
Depending on your wishes, other heirs, the value of your estate, and whether you have trusted friends or family members in your life, you may choose one of the following options to provide for your pets:
Name a beneficiary
You can name the person you would like to take over ownership of your pet in your will, just as you would name heirs for money and other property. You can also stipulate that you would like to leave a certain amount of money to that person for the care of your pet. Keep in mind that you can’t leave the money directly to the pet, and the person who inherits the money is not legally obligated to spend the money on the pet. However, if you have discussed this plan with the person and you trust them, this can be an easy option for providing for your beloved cat or dog.
Create a pet trust
In order to create a legal obligation for the care of your pet, you could set up a trust that names a caretaker and requires them to use the money in the trust only for the pet. You can provide specific instructions for caring for the pet, how the money should be used, and what to do with any leftover money after the animal dies. If the caretaker fails to follow the terms of the trust, they could be sued for breach of fiduciary duty. The downside of a pet trust is that it is expensive to set up and does not allow for any flexibility if circumstances change after your death. If you trust the caretaker you have named, there should be no need for a trust.
Leave the pet to a rescue organization
If you don’t have someone you trust to leave your pet to, you could specify the rescue organization, animal sanctuary, or local shelter you would like the pet to go to. You could also bequeath a donation to the organization for goodwill. If your pet—such as a horse, parrot, or exotic animal—requires special care or facilities, you might not have any friends who are equipped to care for it. Instructions for the executor of your estate will be essential in this case.
Make unofficial arrangements
If you have discussed the care of your pet with a friend or family member, they have agreed to take ownership, and there is no one else who would dispute ownership, you can tell the executor of your will about the arrangement on an informal basis and trust that your wishes will be honored.
If you don’t make any plans for your pet, it will be left up to the executor of your will—or the court if you don’t have a will—and your pet could end up in a shelter if no one steps forward to take it. Discuss your wishes for the care of your pets with your estate planning attorney to make sure this doesn’t happen.