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Should Your Pets Be In Your Will?

Bev O'Shea  |  August 16, 2022

Your pet is considered property, so you can’t leave them money. But you can have a say in what happens & make sure they are taken care of.

The emotional cost of loving a pet is the grief in losing them. Usually, pet owners outlive their pets. But not always.

So . . . should Fluffy or Fido get a mention in your will?

“It is extremely important that pet owners consider what happens to their pets after they pass,” says Tracy Craig, a Massachusetts attorney specializing in trusts and estates. “A main cause of pets ending up in shelters is the death of an owner.”

Some pets get adopted; many do not. (And right now, shelters are bursting at the seams.)

“Nearly everyone will experience a hardship or emergency at some time in their life, so be prepared,” advises Vicki Stevens, communications director for companion animals with the Humane Society of the United States. She suggests finding at least two people who are willing to pinch-hit as caregivers, and who would take your pets permanently if it came to that.

Even if you’ve arranged for someone you trust to adopt your pet(s), consider having a backup; people’s situations change. If you bought your pet from a breeder, check the contract to see if you are obligated to inform the breeder if you cannot care for your pet.

Getting Real About Lifetime Costs

No matter when pet care is needed, someone has to pay for it, and that can be a factor in the sort of care your pet gets.

If you have pet insurance, consider funding that (and factor in increases) for at least the pet’s expected lifespan. Keep in mind that pets can develop treatable chronic diseases. Also consider the cost of routine veterinary care, and add a bit for inflation. If your pet is older, the person who cares for it next may be unable to buy insurance at all. HealthyPaws, for example, offers lifetime coverage for pets, but they must be enrolled by age 14. (You can check the rates for the oldest pets and try to self-fund from there.)

When you calculate costs, consider not only health care, but also food, toys, grooming and occasional boarding. The numbers can be eye-popping.

Why Can’t I Just Leave The Money To My Pet?

The law considers your pet(s) property. You could leave enough money to the person you want to adopt him (or them!) for lifetime care, and indicate in your will that your wish is for the guardian/owner to use the money to take care of your pets in the manner you would if you were alive, and how you’d like the remainder spent. However, that doesn’t legally obligate that person to do what you asked. 

If you want this to be a legal requirement rather than a request, you can set up a trust. That gives you more control over how the money is spent and also allows you to decide what to do with any money that is left over. A trust is more expensive to set up, says Craig, but it offers assurance that your wishes will be carried out. A guardian cares for your pet(s) and a trustee approves and pays expenses.

Whether your pet is mentioned in your will or has a trust, it’s important to get things in writing. Even if you don’t have money to leave for your pet’s continuing care, you can spell out how you would like rehoming to be handled. 

Can Someone Foster Your Pet?

Your pet may need a caregiver while you are alive. My upstairs office became a hospice-home to Pookie, a tiny, wizened gray cat whose owner moved into assisted living in another state. She was close to 20, and her 90-something owner called her “Old Faithful” because she summoned him to bed if he watched TV past 9 p.m. 

For the seven months we had her, I never paid a single bill for her excellent veterinary care; her owner paid all of her expenses, and our veterinarian carefully monitored her failing kidneys. All I had to do was feed her, pet her and keep the litter box clean. Oh, and fall in love, but that was easy.

A less-lucky cat could have ended up at a shelter, competing with healthy kittens (with long life expectancies) to be adopted. Unthinkable, right? And I would have missed the Zen kitty. Don’t imagine no one would want to take this on. Think hard. 

If no one comes to mind, you still have options. Pet Peace of Mind, a volunteer-driven program, helps take care of pets so that they can continue to bring comfort to hospice patients. 

You could also try contacting a local rescue organization to see if you can find a temporary home for your pet. Human Animal Support Services has a database of free or low-cost support services, including temporary care.


If the person you designate truly cannot keep the pet — or can’t continue to do so, the Humane Society recommends Adopt-a-Pet’s rehoming program. That offers some control in choosing adopters and a home where the pet is likely to feel comfortable. Stevens says rehoming is much less stressful for the pets, who would likely be kenneled if taken to a shelter.

Other options for rehoming include advertising on Petfinder or  Get Your Pet, which connects people who need to rehome pets with those who are looking to adopt, says  Rena Lafaille, director of administration, ASPCA Adoption Center in New York.

“Be sure to include as many details as possible when posting about your pet so that you can make the best match,” says Lafaille. That would include information about the pet’s diet, behavior, any medical history, and what sort of companion he or she would be. The more specific you can be, the more likely you are to find adopters who can give the pet a good life from here on out.

Relinquishing your pet to a shelter should be your last resort,”Lafaille says. “Most animal shelters operate at full capacity, and some may have a waiting list to accept an animal into their care.”


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