woman sitting on bench outside with dog

Can I Leave an Inheritance to My Beloved Dog?

Pets have become so much more in modern American families. They are members of the family, treated like children in many households. And just as parents want to ensure their (human) children’s needs will be met, they also want their fur babies properly cared for, too.

Texas law doesn’t allow someone to leave money directly to an animal, but you can use a will or a trust to pay for their continued care.

At Hembree Bell Law Firm, PLLC, our command of Texas estate planning laws will guide you through your options to make sure everyone you love – including your pets – is addressed through a variety of legal tools.

Famous Cases of Pet Inheritance

Dogs, cats, and other pets have become constant companions and emotional support for many owners. Some people arguably have a stronger connection to their pets than to other humans.

Estate planning commonly includes taking steps to ensure pets do not end up abandoned or in a shelter when their owners are no longer around to look after them.

The idea for this planning might have started with the rich and famous.

Famous examples of pampered pets include the following:

  • Choupette: Karl Lagerfeld’s Burmese cat Choupette was written into the will. The fashion designer’s $300-million estate ensures the cat continues to live the lifestyle the cat had become accustomed to. Choupette was already independently wealthy having made over $3 million through modeling jobs.
  • Bubbles: Michael Jackson reportedly left $2 million for the care of his pet chimpanzee.
  • Trouble: Luxury hotel owner Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her beloved Maltese named Trouble. The name is ironic as it was Leona who was in trouble. She was convicted of tax evasion.
  • Gunther III: German countess Karlotta Liebestein left more than $65 million to her German shepherd, Gunther III. When Gunther III passed away, Gunther IV inherited the estate.
  • Gigoo: Childless publishing magnate Miles Blackwell left his pet hen $10 million.

You do not need millions of dollars to take care of your pet’s future.

Estate Planning Tools for Pet Care

A pet cannot own property leaving them unable to inherit property outright. They can, however, be beneficiaries of trust instruments. You can also leave money or property to the individual who will take over caring for the animal upon your death. Will, trusts, and power of attorney to provide for your faithful companion when you are no longer able.

When determining how much you should set aside for your furry friend, you first need to evaluate how much you spend on them now. Food, treats, grooming, veterinarian bills, toys, daycare, emergency medical care, and other expenses need to be added together. As pets get older, they will most likely need more medical care. Multiply that amount by their expected lifespan and add additional funds as a cushion.

Here are legal instruments that can be used to protect your pet’s future:

  • Standard Trust: You can provide for your pets through a traditional trust. The trust can designate a caregiver who is the legal beneficiary of the trust. The trustee administers the assets as stipulated in the trust to the caregiver and ensures that the caregiver acts for the benefit of the pets.
  • Statutory Pet Trust: Texas law specifically authorizes creating a trust for the care of an animal. A separate pet trust is only for your pets. All assets associated with this trust are used to cover the care of your pets. Payments are given to the caregiver at regular intervals to pay for the pet’s needs. A pet trust will end when the pet dies. Pet trusts can be written to cover multiple pets and will stay in effect until the last pet passes away. Trusts should stipulate what happens to any remaining assets after the pet dies.
  • Will: You can also use your will to name who will inherit your pets and leave that person adequate funds for their care. There are a couple of risks with using only a will for the pet’s care. A will has to go through probate before it takes effect. Your wishes are not immediately carried out. Also, there is no way to guarantee that the money allocated to the caregiver will be used expressly for your animal companion.
  • Power of Attorney: This tool is useful should you become incapacitated or seriously ill and unable to care for your furry friend. Through a durable power of attorney, you appoint an agent to take care of your pets. You authorize them to use the necessary funds from your assets to pay for your pet’s needs.

Our team at Hembree Bell Law Firm, PLLC can further explain all your options so you can decide what works best for you and your pets.

Establishing Pet Care in Estate Planning

Our law firm’s goal is to help Texas families through the complex and often-emotional issues in family law and estate planning.

Texans are big-hearted people who want to ensure their dogs, cats, horses, and other animals are treated with the love and respect they deserve. Through a variety of estate planning tools, you can provide for them after you are gone or otherwise unable to care for them.

To learn more about including your pets in estate planning, schedule a consultation. Reach out to us through our convenient online form or call (512) 768-9737.

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