By: Attorney Gina C. Ziegelbauer
At first this question might seem unusual, but according to the American Pet Products Association three in five U.S. households own a pet, which resulted in an estimated $99 billion dollars spent on pets in the U.S. in 2020. It’s pretty clear that people are willing to pamper their pets. In fact, a 2020 study by the Harris Poll on behalf of TD Ameritrade found that an average dog owner spent over $1,200 per year on their pet, not only on the basics like food, vet care, and supplies, but also on daycare, clothing, gifts, and even DNA testing. Not to mention many people consider pets to be members of the family. The same study found that 34% of dog owners and 28% of cat owners have, or have plans to, include their pet in their will. Which leads to the question: can I leave an in inheritance to my pet?
Well, despite various news stories throughout the years of certain very rich pets inheriting millions of dollars, it’s not technically an option. Under Wisconsin law, pets are considered “tangible personal property.” As property, a pet can’t “own” anything. But of course that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for the care of your pet after you’re gone. It’s not unusual for clients to ask about specific planning for their dogs, cats, or horses. Just like your other items of personal property, in your will you can leave your pet to someone who will care for your pet. This may or may not include a corresponding bequest of funds to the caretaker to cover ongoing expenses for your pet. Or the funds may be placed in a trust for the (human) beneficiary that are conditioned on the care of a pet, with a formal or informal agreement that the pet be taken care of.
Wisconsin also has a statutory pet trust that may be created to provide for the proper care of an animal alive during your lifetime and which terminates upon the death of the last surviving animal. So, no provisions for a “grandchild” pet. The trust can include specific directives as to the care of the pet and can depend on your personal values, anticipated spending and life expectancy of your pet. Other considerations include the disposition of pet’s remains and direction as to which veterinarian to use. The trust can also provide for the distribution of unused funds after the death of the pet to individuals or to a charity.
Even if you don’t take formal steps for planning, you could have an informal arrangement with a friend or family member who has agreed to take your pet if something happens to you. You might decide to develop a written action plan while you’re still living, which could include contact information for their veterinarian, medications, allergies, microchipping, or a pet care authorization form.
Pet planning may not be for everyone, but for those whose pets are an important part of the family, pet planning can provide peace of mind (even if your pet can’t actually receive an inheritance).
The information in this article is general in nature, and is not intended to be legal advice.