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Can pets be named as heirs and beneficiaries?

Pets are often considered family members by those who own them. In Illinois and throughout the country, people commonly refer to their pets as "fur babies," and often experience intense grief when a cat, dog, bird or other beloved pet dies. On the flip side, numerous legal issues can arise if the pet owner dies, as well. In fact, many people wonder if they can name pets as heirs and beneficiaries in their last wills and testaments.

Because a beneficiary must be able to accept an inheritance and sign documents, an animal does not meet the legal qualifications of the term. Pets are typically legally classified as property (chattel); therefore, they cannot be designated as heirs and beneficiaries. However, it is possible to financially provide for one's pets after a pet owner's death by setting up a trust ahead of time. A pet owner can, in fact, name a person in his or her will to inherit a pet, but that does not guarantee that the person accepting the inheritance will keep the pet or continue to financially provide for the animal's needs.

For those who wish to ensure that certain provisions will be made for a pet, forming a trust is the best way to go. Such a document is legally enforceable. Stipulations incorporated as part of a trust can include regular inspections to make sure the pet in question is being properly cared for with monies from the trust.

A pet trust also allows for incremental provisions as opposed to giving the caregiver a lump sum of money up front. Trust payments can be carefully timed. A pet trust can be simple or highly detailed, such as including instructions for which type of food the animal should be given or how often it should be taken to a groomer. An Illinois estate planning attorney can clarify state laws regarding heirs and beneficiaries and can provide guidance to any pet owner wishing to learn more about the options available for ensuring that a pet will be properly cared for after an owner's death.

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