Including Your Dog in Your Will

Picture of black dog and a woman

No one wants to think about dying and the loved ones, including pets, that they will leave behind. Not thinking about this, however, makes you an irresponsible dog owner. If you truly love your dog and he is a part of your family, you must plan for your dog’s future after your death. You can’t actually leave property to a dog in your will, because your dog is already considered to be part of your personal property. You must include your dog in your will in order to guarantee that he has a safe and happy life after your death. Following are some of the best tips for ensuring that your best friend is well taken care of upon your death.

Establish a Trust in Your Will to Benefit Your Dog

While you could just pick a caregiver and leave money to him or her to take care of your dog after your death, the safest and most legal way to do this is to have a lawyer establish a legal trust. In this trust, you must:

  • Appoint a trustee – a person who is willing to administer the money in the trust after your death and make sure it only goes towards caring for your dog.
  • Set aside enough money to take care of all of your dog’s needs for the remainder of his life.

Have Your Dog’s Caregiver Specified in Your Will

This is a person whom you must designate that will take care of your dog after your death. Ideally, your dog’s next caregiver will be someone he already knows and likes – a family member, trusted friend, your dog’s sitter, even his veterinarian, should this person agree to take on the responsibility of caring for your dog upon your death. This person is not the trustee – rather, the caregiver is the person who will be responsible for your dog’s needs, using the trust money that will be given to him/her by the trustee, after your death.

  • Because your dog is considered to be your personal property, legally you are essentially gifting your dog to this caregiver upon your death.
  • Speak with the person whom you intend to name as caregiver in your will before adding that person to your will, to make sure that he or she agrees to care for your dog after you die. This is a big responsibility so choose wisely and make sure the caregiver knows what will be expected of him or her.
  • If you do not have enough assets to establish a trust for your dog, you can gift money directly to the caregiver in your will, with the stipulation that it must be used to care for your dog for the rest of his life. Should you choose this route, make sure to set aside enough money so that the caregiver can pay for your dog’s veterinarian costs, foods, toys, boarding, grooming, and other incidental costs that may arise during the remainder of your dog’s life.

Include Care Instructions in Your Will That Will Go to the Caregiver

  • Your dog is bound to be upset by your death, should he outlive you. He is your best friend, after all, and may be devastated when you are no longer there to take care of him. The best way to ensure a smoother transition to a new caregiver is to keep as much as possible the same. In this list of instructions, include:
    • Your dog’s favorite or preferred brand of
    • Your dog’s veterinarian’s name and contact information.
    • Your dog sitter’s name and contact information, if you have one.
    • Your favorite boarding kennel, should you use one.
    • Your preferred dog groomer, if you have one.
    • Any special behavioral quirks your dog may have.
    • Does your dog have any special medical problems or health needs?
    • Your dog’s daily routine – it will be important for your dog’s new caregiver to stick as closely to your dog’s routine as possible. Dogs are creatures of habit and feel more secure when they know what to expect. Make it easier on your dog, and on his new caregiver, by specifying what his life is like now:
      • What times of the day does your dog like to go out?
      • How long does he typically stay outside?
      • Does your dog get regular walks and if so, at what time does he expect them?
      • Does your dog have a designated playtime in which you and he toss the ball around?
      • Does your dog have favorite toys?
      • What are your dog’s feeding times?
      • Where does your dog prefer to sleep? (While this may change, it will be helpful for your dog’s next caregiver to know the basics — does he have a favorite dog bed, a specific room he prefers to sleep in, does he sleep in your bed?)

Remember, only a document that is legally enforceable, such as a will, can guarantee your dog’s future will be secure after your death. If you have more than one dog and want to keep them together, these instructions must be written into the will. Make sure that you have discussed this fact with the caregiver you appoint—you don’t want to spring a new dog family upon him or her after your death.

You do not want your dog to be relegated to a place you wouldn’t want him to end up after your death. The SPCA, shelters and kennels are full of dogs whose owner died without providing for their futures, and unfortunately, many of them, especially older dogs, end up euthanized when no one chooses them as their new pet. Save your dog from this fate by talking to a prospective caregiver now and including specific instructions in your will.



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