Many of my clients wonder if they can leave an entire estate to a pet and what happens after this furry family member dies. Unfortunately, the answer is no, you can't leave an estate directly to your pet. Animals can’t own property. Your cat doesn’t have the necessary legal capacity. However, your estate or part of an estate can be left for the benefit of a pet. There are two options.
There are actually two options; here they are:
Pet Trust. This is a trust document that establishes the purpose of the trust, who it will benefit and how the assets held in the trust are to be administered for the beneficiary. Think of Leona Helmsley. She was a hotel heiress who left $12 million to her dog. Technically, she left the money in trust and a trustee managed the funds for the life of her Maltese.
The trust should also state who receives any money left in the trust when the pet dies. That’s known as a remainder beneficiary.
From a legal standpoint, animals are considered property, even though pet lovers consider them furry friends or family members. You need to name someone to take ownership and care for your pet.
You can also forego a trust and simply leave your pet and a sum of money to care for the pet to a designated person without a trust. But there’s no guarantee that after you die, the person you selected won’t just pocket the money and give the pet away. There are less structure and certainty in this, but it’s a less expensive option to set up.
Animal Charities. There are organizations that care for animals when their owners die. You can donate to the organization and leave your pet to them. They will do the rest. You can add these instructions to your will. However, be sure to research the organization and the housing arrangements before choosing this option. You want to be totally comfortable with the group that will care for your pet after you’re gone.
Reference: NJ.com (July 12, 2017) “Can you leave an estate to a pet?”