Can You Leave Money to a Pet After You Pass?
What happens when you leave money to a pet after you pass away? Figo explores the answer and discusses your options for protecting your pet from the unexpected.
As a pet parent, you want the best for your soulful sidekick. That’s why it’s only natural for you to want your dog or cat to be cared for even after you’re gone. I mean, giving your pet the life they deserve is never a waste of money - it only makes sense that some dog moms and dads want to ensure their pets are set in case anything should happen.
So let's explore! Can you leave your money to a pet? Despite the recent furor about Gunther VI and his $400 million dollars, unfortunately, the answer is no. According to U.S. law, pets are considered property and you cannot technically leave them an inheritance.
The good news? You can still ensure they are taken care of through an appropriate estate plan. In other words, you can leave money for the pet’s care to a trustee, which becomes active upon your passing. The designated individual can then use those funds for the care, support, and medical needs of your pet.
What happens when you leave money to a pet?
If a pet owner leaves money to a pet in his or her will, the money will be included in what's called the owner’s "residuary estate". This is because, in the United States, the money cannot go directly to the pet. Gunther VI, who currently resides in Italy, supposedly inherited $80 million from a German countess. His fortune, now worth $400 million, remains under the control of an Italian entrepreneur.
Of course, we all wish we could give our beloved pets the kind of life that Gunther leads. And while that lifestyle is way out of reach for most of us, it's still important to think about what will happen to our pets in case of a tragic emergency. There are many pet parents who don’t make any plans for the continued care of their animals. This means that pets are often surrendered to shelters in the unfortunate case that their owner passes away.
For these reasons, it’s imperative to create an arrangement to ensure your pets are taken care of so they can live a long, happy life. Here are two options you can explore:
Leave your pet to a caregiver or organization in your will
You can choose to leave your pet to a caregiver in your will or living trust. In this case, as the name implies, it's important to choose a person who you trust. For example, you may want to choose an immediate family member or close friend.
Consider having a discussion with the caregiver about your pet’s daily needs and care. Alternatively, some pet owners choose an organization to care for their animal such as a pet sanctuary. If you choose a well-established organization, be sure to visit the facility to get a better idea of how they treat their animals and fully understand the process before adding them to your will.
Set up a pet trust
A pet trust gives you more control over how your curious copilot is cared for and how your designated money for that pet is spent. Typically, you’ll select a trustee who will ensure that your wishes are being met. He or she will distribute the funds to the caregiver or individual looking after the animal.
However, consider the situation in Dixfield, Maine. In 2002, a resident of Dixfield left $200,000 in a charitable trust to help care for the stray cats in the town. However, due to vague language in the resident’s will and other legal issues, it was only in 2019 that the cats were able to benefit from the trust.
To ensure that your pet is taken care of the way that you want, you'll likely want to consult a lawyer and include the following in your trust document:
State that your animal companions are covered.
Select a caregiver.
Designate an amount of money for your pet’s care.
Write detailed instructions on how to care for your pet.
Choose a person to enforce your trust’s terms.
It can be difficult to make these types of decisions about your pet’s care. However, it’s important to ensure it is taken care of after you’re gone.
Even if you're not Gunther-level wealthy with the funds to pay for a lifetime of dog bones, it's just as important to make sure that you are prepared for the unexpected. Our pets are there for us through thick and thin - it's vital that we plan for them accordingly.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.