Pet Guardianships

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Like many people, you probably consider your pets to be a part of your family and want to make sure they’re taken care of and protected after you’re gone. But in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property and you can’t use your will to leave them an inheritance. Nevertheless, if you want to provide for the care of your pets when you make a will, there is a way to do so. 

Including pets in your will

Because the law considers pets to be property, your pets are part of your “estate” and you can use your will to leave them as a gift. You only need to mention the recipient’s name and the pet that they’ll receive. 

If you use an our free, online will-making service, you can answer a few questions about your pets and who you’d like to care for them after your death. This person is referred to as a “pet caregiver.” Then, those answers will auto-populate in your self-help, legal will forms under a section called “pet care directives.”

Be careful to choose a caregiver that you trust. You may want to nominate someone who will love and provide for your pets just like you would. If you have especially complicated pet care wishes, you might want to speak to an attorney to make sure they’re carried out.

Leaving money to pets in a will

Since they’re technically property, you can’t leave money to your pets in your will. However, if you name a pet caretaker for them, you can leave money and property to that person. And if you our will creator, you can request that they use those assets to care for your pets. 

You should know, though, that these requests aren’t legally binding for the caretaker. That’s why it’s important for you to leave your pet to someone you know and trust. Before you name them in your will, you should speak to them about your plan to name them as a caretaker and what your wishes will be. 

If you want to set aside money for your pet’s care with a legally binding obligation that it’s used only for your pet’s benefit, then you should speak to an estate planning attorney. They can help you establish a pet-care trust (see the pet trust section below).

Adding new pets to your will

Generally, you should update your will every few years or after any big life events, such as getting married or having a child. When you update your will, you can include your new pets and name new pet caretakers.

However, we know it’s not always easy to keep your will up-to-date. If you make your will on our FreeWill site, we’ll include a clause that covers any pets you specifically name, as well as any other pets you own and didn’t name. That way all your new pets will be left to the caretaker you choose.

Leaving instructions for your pet caretaker

When you make a will, you can include a request that describes the type of care you’d like your pets to receive. For example, you could request that your pet caretaker brings your dog to the vet twice a year or only feeds him organic food. 

Wills should include language that asks the pet caretaker to treat your pets as “companion animals.” They also request that your pet caretaker uses the best possible standards of care when providing for your pets. 

Setting up a pet trust

A pet trust allows you to leave money and instructions specifically for your pet’s care. Setting up a pet trust is similar to setting up any other trust. You will need to speak with an estate planning attorney, who can help you create the documents you need. 

When you set up a pet trust, you will name a trustee. This person will most likely act as your pet’s caretaker, as well as have the legal authority to manage your trust after you pass. They may also be able to take care of your pet if you fall ill and become incapacitated. Your trustee will be obligated to use the money you’ve left in the trust for your pet’s care, according to your instructions. 

Before creating a pet trust, you should consider your pet’s life expectancy, their expenses, their likelihood of developing health issues, and more. But if you leave an unreasonable amount of money in a trust for your pet’s care, family members may be able to challenge it in court.

What happens to your pet when you die?

There are a few scenarios that could take place for your pet when you die.

If you have a will with pet care directives, your pet should go to the beneficiary you named. If you have a pet trust, your pet should go to your trustee or whoever you named as caretaker.

If you have a will, but it doesn’t mention your pet, then your pet may go to whoever you named as the beneficiary for the remainder of your estate. This is the person who will receive what’s left of your property after all other beneficiaries are paid out.

If you don’t have a will at all when you die, then your property (pets included) will be subject to your state’s “intestacy” laws. This typically means that a local probate court will appoint someone as the executor of your estate. That person will be responsible for deciding what happens to your pet. Unfortunately in these circumstances, pets are often put in shelters instead of given to family or friends who may be your preference. That’s why it’s important for you to protect your pet in your will.

HOW TO ENROLL in OPHS' Pet Guardianship Program & Receive YOUR Pet Biogrpahy FOrm

  1. Have an estate planning attorney draw up a will or trust for you or visit our Free Will service at
    Have your attorney: Name family members or friends, and if they aren’t available, Olympic Peninsula Humane Society to take your animals upon your permanent incapacity or passing.
    The following is suggested language for a will or a trust concerning a pet: I give any pet(s) that I may own at the time of my death to family member/friend. If he/she is unable to provide for my pet(s) I give my pet(s) to family member/friend. If he/she is unable to provide for my pets, I give my pet(s) to Olympic Peninsula Humane Society. I authorize Olympic Peninsula  Humane Society to evaluate my pet(s) and determine in its exclusive judgment whether the animal is in a condition to be healthy and/or treatable. I authorize Olympic Peninsula  Humane Society to place my pet(s) in a loving home.

  2. Name Olympic Peninsula Humane Society as a beneficiary of your will, trust, life insurance or retirement accounts in any amount. A legacy gift ensures the future of all homeless animals.

  3. Complete the OPHS Pet Guardianship Pet Biography Form for each of your animals. These forms are available by contacting Luanne Hinkle at 360-457-8206 Ext. 304 or First, provide the pertinent documents demonstrating that Olympic Peninsula Humane Society is a charitable beneficiary and then you will be provided with the Pet Biography Form. The information you supply will help Olympic Peninsula Humane Society, a no-kill shelter, provide your pet(s) with the best possible new home. This information can be updated at any time and we will follow up with you every two years.

  4. Keep a copy of the Pet Biography Form with your will or trust and inform your executor or trustee of the program.


Please note that this program is for dogs, cats and small animals only. This program is limited to four animals per family. More may be allowed on a case-by-case basis.