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Your loved one left behind a pet: What happens now?

Losing a loved one can be overwhelmingly emotional. And if your loved one named you as their personal representative – or the executor of their will – you often also face an additional level of stress on top of your grief as you begin the probate process.

Then, as you take on the responsibility of managing the affairs of their estate, you realize there is another issue you must address – their pet.

We often consider pets as more than just companions. They are more like members of the family. However, pets are often overlooked in the estate planning and probate process. So, what should you do in this situation?

You might have to determine pet care

Technically, pets are still considered your loved one’s property under the law. Even so, animals are not often a property that goes through probate.

They are still living creatures and treating them like any other property would be inhumane. They must receive proper care. In these cases, you and your loved one’s family have a few options. You should look into matters including:

  • Does their estate plan address pet care? Some people nowadays establish pet trusts under California law. These trusts specify who will care for their pet and set aside the finances necessary to do so. In other cases, individuals might simply name a new owner in their will or a trust. You should check your loved one’s estate plan first to determine if they left any instructions or arrangements behind for their pet.
  • Is someone willing to care for the pet? If your loved one left no instructions, you should arrange who will care for the pet – at least temporarily during the probate process. You can take over caring for the pet yourself, or you can ask your loved one’s friends and family if they have the ability and resources to take the pet in.
  • What about an animal shelter? In some cases, there are no instructions, and no one can take over pet care after the loss of a loved one. Then, it might be necessary to look into rehoming the pet through an animal shelter. However, you should take care to do research and choose a proper animal shelter.

Regardless of the options available to you, one of the first things an executor should do is ensure that any of their loved one’s dependents – including pets – obtain the care they need while executors manage and administer the estate during probate. Arranging pet care might be an extra step, but it is a critical one.

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