Pets and Probate: What Happens to My Pet When I Die?

After you die, your loved ones and the court will decide what to do with your pet — unless you make other arrangements. That is why many people include instructions for their pets in their estate plans. Most courts consider pets as property, so what happens to your pet will largely depend on what you write in your will. If you do not have a will or don’t specify what your loved ones should do with your pet, the probate court will decide what happens to your pet while they make other decisions about your estate.

In most cases, the probate court will award your pet to an immediate family member, usually a surviving spouse or any children you leave behind.

Wills and Trusts

If you have special instructions for what happens to your pet once you are gone, you should include them in your estate plan. For example, you can name the person you want to take care of your pet in your will and create a trust to provide for your pet’s care.

Choosing a Caregiver

You should also leave written instructions with one or more trusted friends or family members, preferably the people you want to take care of your pet in case of emergency. Be sure to give these individuals:

  • Keys to your home
  • Feeding and care instructions
  • The name of your veterinarian
  • Pet insurance policy numbers
  • Contact information of friends, neighbors, relatives, and other designated caregivers

Further, you may want to give the emergency caretaker’s name to your pet’s veterinarian, so your pet does not suffer any interruption in veterinary care.

Keep in mind that your pet’s new caregiver will have full control over what happens to your pet, including veterinary care and euthanasia. Choose someone responsible who has cared for animals before. If possible, select someone who already knows and loves your pet as well as you do. Always talk to your choice and discuss the expectations and responsibilities of becoming an emergency caregiver before naming them in your will.

Providing for Your Pet

To make sure your friend or relative can afford your pet’s care, you may want to leave behind a conditional gift in the caretaker’s name using a trust — or purchase pet insurance to help ease the financial burden that comes with a new pet.

Do I Need Legal Help?

Although some people make informal arrangements for their pets, only estate planning tools are legally binding. Deciding who will care for your pet is an important part of any estate plan, but when you think about the end of your life, there are many other factors to consider, as well.

Our estate planning attorneys at Reed Leeper, P.C. can help you create a legally binding will and form a comprehensive estate plan. Plan for everything from pet care to taxes with over 150 years of combined professional experience on your side.

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