Including Animals in Your Will
Companion animals add so much to our lives and give us joy,
unconditional love and loyalty. Yet people routinely fail to
provide for their animals in their wills.
You should not assume that the executor of your will knows
what is in the best interest of your companion animals. You need
to make direct reference and provisions for them in your will.
Here are several ways to ensure proper care of your animals
following your death:
- Set up a Testamentary Guardian Trust within your will.
Such a trust generally leaves an animal to a Guardian and sets
aside a sum of money to be held and used by a Trustee to provide
for the animal’s food, care and veterinary needs over his lifetime.
(The Guardian and Trustee can be the same person only if you
absolutely trust that person). Leave a reasonable amount of money
in the trust; if you leave a very large sum, relatives are more
likely to challenge the will. The funds in this Trust will not
actually belong to your animals, but they receive the benefit
of the funds. Some other person or organization must be entitled
to the residuary funds that may or may not be left after the
deaths of your animals.
- Make a direct bequest to an individual (beneficiary)
who agrees to use the funds to care for your animals. Clearly
explain your expectations for the care of the animals. This is
risky because the beneficiary is under no legal obligation to
actually use the money for the care of your animals.
- If you cannot find an individual you trust to take
your animals, locate a reputable shelter or humane organization
in your area that will find a family to adopt your animals.
- You can state in your will that your companion animals
may not be used for medical research or product testing under
- If you have provided in your will for the euthanasia
of your animal upon your death, be aware that the courts have
invalidated such provisions. You would be better advised to request
your executor, a trusted friend, or a reputable humane organization
be first given the opportunity to locate an appropriate home
for your animals. There is less likelihood a court would overturn
such a provision, and your animal may adapt much better than
you would expect.
- Make sure you discuss your plans in advance with the
people or organizations you leave in charge so they won’t be
surprised and there will be less confusion and delay for your
animals. Have your will and any trusts drafted by a qualified
estate planning attorney in your area to avoid legal problems.
- And finally, do not forget that you can make a significant
contribution to the lives of thousands of animals by remembering
the Animal Legal Defense Fund in your will. By doing so, you
can avoid or lower federal estate taxes, and give a much needed
boost to an effort that will continue your fight for the animals
— beyond your lifetime. For more information about including ALDF in your will, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about including animals in your will, read ALDF’s article, Establishing a Trust for Your Animals.