How to Include Your Dog in Your Will
Many people consider their dogs part of the family, so they naturally want to include them in the will. However, you can’t leave money or assets to your dog, so don’t try to give your dog your house.Instead, you can provide for your dog by naming a caregiver and allowing expenses to be charged to your estate. Before changing your will, you should consider whether a pet trust might be a better option.
Developing a Plan
Select an emergency caregiver.Tragedies can strike in an instant, and you want someone immediately available to care for your pet. Pick two trusted friends who are willing to act as emergency caregivers.Make sure whoever you pick is responsible. These are people you must depend on in an emergency. It’s better to choose a trusted neighbor than a child who isn’t around very often.
- Write out instructions for how to care for your dog. Include information such as a feeding schedule and walk times.
- Provide these emergency caregivers with keys to your home so they can easily access your pet.
- You can also create an emergency contact card that you carry with you. This card can list your emergency caregivers and their contact information.
Choose a long-term caregiver for the dog.You’ll want to choose someone who is capable and who loves your dog as much as you do. Think of a close family member or friend. Make sure they have been around the dog so they know what they are getting into.
- If you don’t know anyone, then you can choose a charitable foundation to take care of your dog.Search for “pet retirement homes” or “animal sanctuaries” that might be willing to look after a pet.
- You can also give your will’s executor the power to choose someone to take care of your dog. Don’t despair if you can’t find anyone who agrees to serve as a caregiver. After you die, your executor might be able to find someone.
- If you have more than one dog, try to choose a caregiver who can take all of them. It is especially important to keep animals together if they have bonded.
Pick alternate caregivers.Your preferred long-term caregiver might move, die before you, or change their mind. It is important to choose one or two alternates. You will need to identify these people in your will.
- Stay in touch with all caregivers. Periodically check in to make sure they are still willing to serve.If they change their mind, then you can change your will.
Calculate how much money to set aside.You’ll need to set aside some money to provide for your dog when you are gone. To find out how much to leave, you should add up how much you spend on your dog in a typical year. Then multiply this amount by the number of years you can expect your dog to live.
- The website PetMD has a chart listing the average lifespan of different dog breeds. The chart is available here: .
- Necessary expenses include food, vet care, grooming, and other expenses, such as boarding if the caregiver is travelling.
- Your dog cannot inherit property, so don’t leave too much money. Any excess can be challenged by your heirs. Instead, leave as much as is reasonably necessary to care for your dog.
Drafting a Provision in Your Will
Find your will.If you’ve already drafted a will, then you’ll want to include a “codicil,” which is an amendment to an existing will.Find your will so that you know what is currently in it. Look through your papers or ask your lawyer for a copy.
- Dogs are considered personal property, so your dog will be given to whoever inherits the personal property in your estate.
Identify who you want to receive your dog.You can name a caregiver or give your executor (personal representative) the power to find a suitable caregiver for your pet. Include this information in your will.
- For example, you could write, “I give my dog, Jack, which I may own at the time of my death, to April Jones, presently residing at 1234 South Street, Any City, New York, with the request that she treat Jack as a companion animal.”
- To give your executor the power to name a caregiver, include the following language: “I direct my Executor to place my dog, Jack, at my death with another individual or family where he will be cared for in a responsible, devoted manner.”
Direct your executor to provide medical care.You should also direct your executor to have the dog taken to a vet and checked to make sure it is healthy. Also direct your executor to provide any necessary medical care if the dog is sick.
- Sample language might read, “Prior to placing my dog, I direct my Executor to consult Doctor Sherri Smith, D.V.M. or, if Dr. Smith is unavailable, a veterinarian chosen by my Executor, to ensure the dog is in good health. I also direct my Executor to provide all necessary and reasonable veterinary care that my dog needs to restore him to good health.”
Decide if you want ill animals euthanized.If your dog is very sick, then you might want to provide that it should be euthanized. You can include this provision in your will.
- For example, you can write, “If the dog is not in generally good health or is suffering, then it shall be euthanized and cremated if good health cannot be restored with veterinary medicine.”
Provide for expenses.Include a provision stating how expenses will be covered. For example, you can leave both your dog and a sum of money to the caregiver. Make the gift of money contingent on the caregiver accepting your dog.
- You can write, “I direct my Executor to give ,000 from my estate to the person who accepts my dog, Jack. I request that these funds be used for Jack’s care.”
- Also provide for the expenses incurred immediately after you die. For example, you could write: “Any expenses incurred for the care, transportation, or placement of my dog shall be charged against the principal of my residuary estate. All decisions made under this article by my Executor are final. I intend that my Executor have as much discretion as legally permissible to carry out this article.”
Distribute copies of your will.Make sure that you give a copy of your will to your executor, as well as the people you identified as caregivers.You should also have a copy of your will for your own records.
- As you are distributing copies of the will, it’s a good time to pull together other dog records your caregivers will need. Find vet records and write down detailed instructions about your pet’s dietary needs.
Obtaining Greater Control with a Pet Trust
Understand the advantages of a pet trust.A trust is a lot like a will. You will identify a caregiver and then set aside money to be used for your dog. With a trust, a person called a “trustee” holds and manages the money. A trust has many advantages over a will. For example, consider the following:
- A will doesn’t take effect for several weeks. Even more, a will might have to go through probate court. A pet trust, by contrast, immediately takes effect. It can even go into effect before you die, for example, if you become incapacitated.
- You can’t really enforce instructions in a will. Instead, a will only disburses property. Accordingly, your caregiver can ignore your instructions in a will.However, a trustee can enforce the trust.
- You can disburse money over time with a trust. By contrast, a will disburses all money at once.
- A trustee can continue to check in on your dog. With a will, the executor gives your pet to your designated caregiver and that’s it. No one checks up on your dog.
Consult with an attorney.A qualified attorney can help you decide between a will and a trust. You will also probably need an attorney to draft your pet trust for you. To find a qualified attorney, contact your local or state bar association and ask for a referral.
- You can find sample pet trusts online. However, each state’s trust law is different, and you’ll want your trust to conform to your state’s requirements.
- Remember to draft a "stand-alone" trust, and not a statutory pet trust, if you want to provide instructions for how your dog should be taken care of.
Choose a trustee.The trustee will control the money and make payments to whoever you choose as the caregiver.You will want to appoint as trustee someone who is financially responsible.
- The trustee should not be the person who will take care of your dog.
- Also don’t choose a trustee who is a close friend or relative of the caregiver. The trustee is supposed to serve as a check on the caregiver.
Provide detailed instructions for care.With a stand-alone pet trust, you can control how your pet is taken care of. Get as detailed as you want. However, make sure to talk about your instructions beforehand with whoever you choose as your dog’s caregiver. For example, you can provide instructions about the following:
- Your dog’s diet. You can identify what kind of dog food your pet should be given.
- The vet your dog should visit. You can state that your dog should continue to see your vet.
- The dog’s walk schedule. If you want the dog to be taken for a walk each day, then state so.
- How your dog should be disposed of upon death. For example, you can state that your dog should be cremated or buried.
Require regular inspections.You can also instruct the trustee to visit the caregiver regularly to make sure that your dog is being taken care of in the manner you provided.You might want your trustee to make regular visits or to stop in unannounced periodically.
Name a remainder beneficiary.The money you set aside to fund the trust might not all be spent before your dog dies. In that situation, you should name someone to receive the leftover money. This person is the remainder beneficiary.
- You can name a friend or family member as the remainder beneficiary.
- You could also leave assets to an animal welfare charity. This would make a lasting tribute to your dog’s memory.
- Avoid naming the caregiver as the remainder beneficiary. If you do, they have an incentive for the dog to die earlier so they can use all of the left-over money.
Video: Saying Goodbye: The Right Time to Euthanize Your Pet
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