Can a Pet Be Named as Your Estate Beneficiary?

We have all heard the old tale of the elderly rich person that decides to leave his/her fortune to their pet instead of their children inevitably resulting in the largest twist of some terrible movie or television. Well, if you have seen that you may have wondered to yourself if those pets could actually have inherited the money left to them by the will, so does Fido get to become the richest pooch on the block? The answer, unfortunately for him, is no, he is unable to inherit any of the funds left to him by his eccentric owner. That being said, there are things that a person can do to make sure that their faithful companion is cared/provided for after they pass on and you will the options available below.

Can a Pet Be Named as Your Beneficiary?

While pets are very important family members and we treat them as if they are people, the law sees things differently. Just as in a dissolution proceeding (covered in an earlier Banks & Brower blog post) the law sees pets of any kind as personal property of the human that owns them. The law states that one piece of property cannot own another piece of property, hence why your furry pal is unable to inherit that stock portfolio or sweet baseball card collection after your death. You may be thinking, “ok. I will just name my pet as a beneficiary to get around these restrictions.” Well, you would be wrong if you did that, because just as your animal is not able to own property, they are not able to be a beneficiary in a trust, will, or any other testamentary instrument. If you were to name your little buddy as the beneficiary, the property would most likely skip over the pet and would to the successor or alternate beneficiary if there is one listed. If you do not have a successor or alternate beneficiary, then it would go to the residuary beneficiary (which is someone who receives everything NOT specifically left to any other beneficiaries listed in the will or trust), and if there is no residuary beneficiary then property will be distributed via the “intestate succession” scheme, which is the statutory set up that distributes property in the event that someone deceases without a will or trust.

Providing for the Care of Your Pet

Now that we have painted a bleak enough picture as it pertains to your pets and your property, there are things you can do to provide for their welfare in the event that you pre-decease your pet. The first thing you are able to do is to treat your pet as the State would treat them, as property, and leave them to a specific person or entity in your will or trust. You will have to find someone that you trust to make sure that your furry family member is well cared for, but if you have that then this is always a great option. This is usually the best option as it allows the Court to follow your wishes exactly, and you know who will be caring for your pet in the event that you are not around. As a helpful tip, if you decide to proceed with this option and leave your pet to a person or entity, do that person or organization a favor and leave them some financial support in your will as well, so that it can help defray the costs of caring for your pet, especially in the event that your demise is unexpected and the animal is somewhat “thrust” upon them.

As earlier stated, even though the laws prohibit leaving anything specifically to your pets, they do still allow for you to arrange for their care, which is how this second option comes int play. The second option being spoken about is that of a “pet trust” which is not necessarily a stand-alone trust but usually a piece of a larger trust document. In Indiana Pet Trusts are VALID for the care of one or more animals that were alive during the trust settlor’s (the person forming the trust) lifetime and the trustee that is appointed either by the settlor or the Court is able to enforce this trust and make sure the settlor’s wishes are carried out. The trustee does not necessarily have to be the person named responsible for the animal, so you could name your brother/sister as the trustee, but name your friend as caretaker of the animal. You will be in essence leaving the animal with a guardian, and leaving that guardian with money for that pet’s care, so in a way, still leaving the money to your pet (sort of). The catch with this option is that you need to leave funds for the pet’s care and it expires upon the death of the pet or pets, so it cannot extend to the pet’s offspring (if you want to provide for any type of offspring or to make sure that someone receives your pooch’s pups, then go with the Will option laid out earlier in this post).

Basically, you need to think of your pet as property and plan accordingly if you believe that they may outlive you or you feel the need to plan (IT IS ALWAYS GREAT TO BE PREPARED). However you want to proceed, be assured that there are ways to make sure that your estate reflects your wishes as it pertains to your animals/pets and that you can make plans to posthumously care for your faithful companions.

If you have further questions about how to provide for your four-legged best friend in the event something happens to you or any other estate planning questions you may have please do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC for a free consultation at (317) 870-0019 or email us at info@banksbrower.com.