One of the most important issues an individual faces during his or her estate planning is the question of how that person’s loved ones will be cared for after the will writer dies, as well as what will happen to that person’s assets. Usually “loved ones” means children or other close relatives or friends, but the term can also refer to pets.
Despite what people may think of their pets, under the law they are considered to be property, and an estate cannot leave money or property to them. If a person attempts to bequeath property to pet in his or her will, the property will likely go instead to an alternate beneficiary, or the residuary beneficiary named in the will, or if neither beneficiary exists, a person’s closest relatives under the intestate laws of the deceased person’s state.
An individual can provide for a pet by bequeathing money to a trusted caretaker. While fairly simple, such a plan may very well be a non-legal arrangement that many people would not be comfortable with.
A stronger, usually binding means of providing for a pet is to set up a pet trust in states where they are legal, which include Virginia and Maryland. Under a pet trust, an individual can leave money to a designated caretaker to spend the funds for the pet according to a set of instructions spelled out in the trust.
If a person decides that they want to provide for their pet through a pet trust in case they die before their pet does, the prudent course of action is to seek the help of an experienced estate-planning attorney who can help them set up such a trust.