Adam Karp, a lawyer in Bellingham pictured above with Bubba, exclusively practices animal law in Washington and Idaho. He answers questions about pets and estate planning.
Question: If I don’t have a will or made other legal arrangements, under Washington State law what happens to my pets when I die?
Answer: Barring the existence of an animal trust, state law (RCW 11.04.015) generally will treat the animal companions as estate property, passing to heirs per the state’s intestacy laws — i.e., first the spouse/domestic partner, then the children, then the parents, then the siblings, then grandparents, then aunts and uncles.
Question: What legal protection does a will or trust provide me and for my pets?
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Answer: It gives posthumous decision making power to the one in the best position to determine who will acquire ownership and possessory rights in your animal companions – i.e., you!
A will to provide for an animal companion typically takes the form of an outright legacy (distribution of money) to a person for the benefit of the animal. A trust, on the other hand, contemplates using the trust corpus and interest for a longer period of time, generally the lifetime of the animal.
A distribution of money from a will lacks the reliability and recourse of a trust, because the recipient of money under a will could just take a trip to Hawaii and not use it for the animal; whereas the trustee owes a fiduciary duty to use the trust assets according to your explicit instructions.
Question: How important is designating a guardian? How can I be sure my pet will be getting the kind of care I want him or her to have?