Long Term Planning – Can Pets Be Beneficiaries?


Pets play a special role in all our lives; they serve as companions, security, as well as important additions to our families. However, when it comes to naming beneficiaries in your will, it has long been debated on a state level whether pets can legally be named as beneficiaries of an estate, due to their lack of capacity.

Many people name their animals, such as their dogs or cats, in their will, without realizing that, depending upon the state in which they make the will enforceable, probate court may find the provision invalid and treat the bequest as if it had not been named, passing down using the rules of probate court.

In order to effectively name a pet as a beneficiary in a will, there are specific ways of writing the provision that ensures your pet will be cared for after your passing. You can designate a friend or relative in your will to be the caretaker of the pet in the event of your passing. In this provision, you can designate a specific amount of money that will be received for care, for taking the pet, and what will happen upon the pet’s death. The caretaker of the animal will then become the owner of the pet legally, because pets are technically considered living property.

It is also important to consider who will care for the animal for the time between the reading of the will and the death of the owner. It can take weeks before a will is read into court, thus, providing a plan for the waiting period is also important. If there are legal disputes that arise during the settlement process, it can be further delayed as to when your pet is allowed to legally belong to the designated caretaker.


You can name a pet guardian as a backup plan in the event that the individual you name as caretaker is not willing or able to take your pet. Pet guardians can be individuals or organizations and can charge a fee, which should be considered and factored into the bequest made. There are also a few other options that may better fit your situation, including the establishment of a pet trust or a pet protection agreement. What is important is that if a bequest is made to a pet that alternate plans are in place in the event that the designated person cannot step up.

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