Advice: Putting a Pet Into a Will

Answers to your real-life legal problems

Dear Yetta,

I’m in the process of making a will and I’m not sure what to do about my dog and two cats. It’s very important to me that they are cared for by people that I know will love them as much as I do. I’ve heard of people leaving all their money to their cats or dog, but my dog is getting pretty old and may not live to fully enjoy my “millions.” I’m a planner, and I want to make sure my pets are taken care of when I’m gone. What should I do?


Dear Tina,

The law says that pets are property, like a lamp, which is pretty shocking when you think about the role pets play in people’s lives. My dogs are important members of my family. The bad news is that, in New York at least, because they’re legally considered “property,” they can’t inherit your “millions.” But you do have some choices when you include them in your will.

You can give the pet(s) in your life an outright bequest (a gift of money) to the person of your choice, and direct that the money must be used to care for the pets. This is a nice option because it gives the person a set amount, which they get to keep as a gift when your pet passes. You can also give a different amount for each pet, commensurate with its needs. One downfall is that there’s no guarantee the money will go towards the pet’s upkeep. The hard part could be ensuring that this money is actually spent on your pet.

You can also set up a trust which benefits your pet while it’s alive and then is distributed to whomever you designate when your pet passes. Previously, a pet could not be the beneficiary of a trust, so a trust set up in favor of your pup was void and the money went to your heirs rather than to your pet. Recently, though, New York law regarding pets and trusts changed. Now you can set up a trust to benefit your pet while it’s alive and have whatever’s left go to your chosen benficiaries when the pet passes.

Email questions to to or call 212-253-6911.

*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.

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