You Can’t Leave Anything in Your Will to Your Guinea Pig
United States law considers animals as property. However, a survey by USA Today in March of 2006 found 69% of those asked considered their pets to be members of the family. It’s an unfortunate situation where the law lags behind popular opinion. Furthermore, one piece of property can not own another piece of property. Therefore, your guinea pig, dog, cat, parrot, or otherwise can not be a beneficiary in a will.
In the event you have outlined special care instructions for your beloved pet and left property or funds to this animal for their continued comfort and care, this would fall to an alternate beneficiary, the person named as your “residuary” beneficiary, or your closest relative in order of “intestate succession.”
What does this mean for your pet? Hopefully, the court chosen beneficiary grants your wishes and takes care of the animal as you have described but there is no follow up structure in place to guarantee the result is as you would have intended.
Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills. – Voltaire, French Enlightenment Writer (1694 – 1778)
In some rare cases, a court may construe the will as creating a trust but they will still choose the new owner of your pet. Creating a trust is the best way you can influence your pet’s care after you are gone and choose the person who will have your animal in the case of your untimely demise. When creating a will, living trust, or pet trust for your guinea pigs or other pets, choose an owner who you’ve previously discussed the situation with ahead of time. Because circumstances change, always name a second choice, in case your first choice can not be carried out for whatever reason.
Some locations have special services that offer to take care of pets after their owners have passed. The Sido Program finds forever homes for the pets of deceased San Francisco SPCA members. The Washington Animal Rescue League’s Guardian Angels Program will care for your pet for the rest of its lifetime in exchange for a financial gift. Unfortunately, both of these programs only extend to dogs and cats at this time. If anyone knows of a similar program that cares for guinea pigs, please let us know in the comments below.
If you would like to read an actual case featuring a dispute between family members and a beloved pet, I suggest reading this review of the estate of Thelma Russell. Thelma left “everything I own… to Chester H. Quinn and Roxy Russell.” Roxy was a dog. Thelma’s niece challenged the will and despite a note left for the courts urging them to not give any of her property to her niece, The California Supreme Court agreed Roxy’s inheritance was void.
While the lifetime of your cavies may seem fleeting, a lot can happen over 5 to 8 years or however long they live out their lives. Pets have been proven to express mourning over the loss of an owner so plan ahead to give them the best possible chance at happiness after you’re gone.
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