A man and a woman standing next to a dog.
Dogs and the Law

Including Your Dog in Your Will — A Guide

Life happens, and sometimes it takes us by surprise. For many of us, our dogs are more than pets, and they’re beloved family members, companions, and best friends. Discussing the inevitable isn’t easy, but crucial for their well-being. You can ensure they’re cared for after you’re gone by including them in your will. Here’s how you can make it happen.

Appointing a Guardian for Your Furry Friend

Legally, pets are considered property and belong to your estate, like your other assets. In your will, you assign a beneficiary for your pet — your “pet guardian.” They’re tasked with caring for your pet after your passing.

Choosing someone you trust, who is reliable and responsible is essential. Caring for a pet can be a major emotional and financial commitment. So, ensure the person you’re considering is capable. It’s best to have this discussion with them before naming them in your will.

To do this, specify the recipient in your will. This could be a sibling, cousin, or a trusted friend. They’re named as a beneficiary, and your pet is the property they receive. Clarity is key here, so ensure your pet is clearly identified to avoid confusion.

Planning for Your Dog’s Future

When thinking about your dog’s care, factor in the monthly costs. These include food, grooming, toys, treats, a monthly average for medicine, preventatives, and a little extra for unexpected veterinary care. Understanding these costs will help both you and the potential guardian determine if the role is a good fit.

Consider setting up a pet trust to provide instructions and funds for your dog’s care. Like other trusts, it’s a good idea to consult an estate planning attorney to ensure everything’s done right. When setting up the trust for your dog, you’ll name a trustee, who will usually act as your dog’s guardian and manage your trust after you pass. They may also step in if you become unable to care for your pet. The trustee must legally use the trust money only for your pet’s care.

In deciding how much to allocate to the trust, consider your pet’s life expectancy and the monthly costs of pet care. If the amount seems too much, family members may challenge it in court, so make sure the amount is justified.

Communicate Your Wishes

Letting your family members and caregivers know your wishes can help your pet transition after you pass. Create a document with all the details about caring for your pet — health information, food preferences, needs, behavior, and what makes your pet happy. While these requests aren’t legally binding, they can provide a blueprint for a happy and healthy life for your pet after you’re gone.

Protecting Your Dog With a Will

Always consult with an estate planning attorney when making a will to ensure it’s legally binding. If your will includes care directives for your dog, they should go to the assigned guardian or trustee. If your will doesn’t mention your pet, they may go to the person who inherits your property after other beneficiaries are paid, often a family member or relative. Without proper planning or communication, this could lead to unforeseen complications.

Including your dog in your will is crucial in ensuring their happiness and care. Without a will, the state decides what happens to your pet. Like your other property, your pet is dispersed according to state law. Usually, the local probate court appoints someone as the executor of your estate, who decides what happens to your pet. This can, unfortunately mean your pet ending up in a shelter instead of with friends or family. That’s why it’s vital to include your dog in your will.

Final Thoughts

It’s not a topic many of us like to think about, but it’s essential. Including your dog in your will and making careful arrangements for their care can give you peace of mind, knowing that your furry friend will be well taken care of when you’re no longer around. It’s a final act of love for a companion who has given you their unconditional love throughout their life. It’s a way to ensure they continue to live happily and comfortably, even when you’re not there to care for them yourself.