Can Your Pet Become Your Heir? How to Plan for Your Pet's Future

For many people, pets are like family. A dog or a cat can warm your heart and hold your affection much like a child, and some people want to make sure that their animals will be well-taken care of after they pass on. When you are planning for the future of your estate, you may want to include specifications as to how the court should deal with your animals. According to the law, you cannot leave your fortune to a pet. Pets are considered the decedent's property, and the courts will not permit a person to will their inheritance to an item of property, even if it is a living, breathing animal. Because you can't will your estate to Fido and Fluffy, you will need to use other measures in order to prepare for your pet's future.

One of the first things you need to tend to is choosing a new owner for your animal. By carefully determining a suitable owner for your pet, you can rest assured that he or she will go to a good home if you are no longer able to care for him or her. You can make this decision legally binding by putting it in a will, or a living trust. If you want to further prepare, you can choose a back-up owner who will be listed as the alternative beneficiary in your will. This way, if something happens with your primary owner-of-choice, you will have another kind and caring animal lover to take his or her place.

If you fail to name a new owner or beneficiary in your will or living trust, then your pet may go to the residuary beneficiary in your will. This is the person who inherits everything that is not taken care of specifically by the rest of the will. If you don't have a will at the time of your death, then your pet will go to your next of kin as determined by the state probate court. Some people may prefer to have their pet's future decided by the court, but others may be concerned about the beneficiary's ability to tend for your animal. For example, if your residuary beneficiary is allergic to dogs or cats, then you will want to outline another individual who can care for your pet.

If you have chosen an owner for your animal, you can leave money for the future owner to spend specifically on your animal. In your will you can reserve a certain amount of money, and determine that it will go to the owner to be spent on the pet's behalf for medical bills, animal food, and other important pet supplies. When you make this sort of provision in your will, you will simply have to trust that your pet's new owner will spend the money wisely. While the court can enforce that the amount of money you allotted is given to the owner of your pet, they cannot enforce that the owner use the money specifically for your pet. If your pet does not survive you, then the money that you set as a provision will be given to the residuary of your estate.

In some situations, it may be best to leave your pet to a caring owner and leave the money to care for your pet to another financially responsible steward. This normally happens if your pet's future owner is not responsible with money, or if he or she receives public assistance like Social Security that may be discontinued if they receive a lump sum of money. You can also set up a pet trust, which leaves property for the benefit of your pet in the hands of a trustee.

You can write this trustee a set of instructions regarding how he or she should spend the money. These pet trusts are only legal in some states, so you will want to check with your local court house to make sure that you can do this if you are considering it. If you don't have anyone to care for your pet, you should locate an animal shelter or a rescue group that will place your pet in a great, loving home.