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.

There 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.  You can state in your will that your companion animals may not be used for medical research or product testing under any circumstances.  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.


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