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Wills and Probate
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Your Will and Your Trusted Pet

We have probably all seen movies, or heard of stories, where the family of the deceased are all in the attorney's office, eagerly listening to the reading of the will, and they are all shocked to learn that they have inherited nothing and everything has been left to Muffy, the pet poodle. Although this makes for an interesting movie, it does not quite happen like this in real life. Animals cannot be named as beneficiaries of a will; only humans can. If you are planning on giving all your life's work to your pet, it simply cannot be done this way.

What you can do is make sure your pet is properly cared for after your death. This can be accomplished in a will without attempting to improperly name your pet as an heir. The first thing you must do is designate a caretaker for your pet. Similar to a guardian for young children, this should be a person or organization that you trust and have spoken with beforehand about caring for your pet in case of your death. You can leave money to that person in your will to care for your pet. But that may not be enough. There could be a substantial time period from your death until your will is probated and the funds received. Therefore, it is important to make advance arrangements to protect your pet from the time of your death until the admission of the will to probate. Arrangements for care of your pet in the event you are incapacitated should also be taken care of.

The amount of money you leave for care of your pet should be reasonable. You do not want your heirs challenging the will because you left 75 percent of your estate for the care of your pet. Also, once the funds are distributed to the caretaker, there will be no court supervision of how the funds are spent. Most states do allow you to set up a trust for the care of your pet. In this situation, the trustee would have a legal duty to use the funds to care for your pet. The courts can enforce this duty.

If you have a cherished pet that has provided you with years of companionship, make sure it is properly provided for after your death. Your attorney can help you ensure this takes place.