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What happens to Washington pets when they outlive their owners?

King County pet lovers may take interest in the "Puppies in Probate" pet guardian program established by the Seattle Humane Society. The program affords pet owners the peace of mind of knowing that their furry friends will be placed in a welcoming home if they outlive their human caretakers.

Because Washington law regards animals as property, the death of a pet owner can result in beloved companions being distributed like estate assets to potentially unwilling heirs. The Humane Society's pet guardian program provides an option to make sure that pets go to a home where they will be wanted should the pets become caught up in the human matters of probate.

Many Washingtonians treat their pets as beloved family members, which can make it hard to think of a pet in terms of property. It is important to remember, though, that a pet does not enjoy the same legal rights as a person and has no ability to speak in defense of its own interests.

Whenever the possibility exists that a pet will outlive its owner, the pet owner should consider providing for the pet's future care through estate planning instruments. For example, if an owner can identify a willing and trustworthy caretaker, a pet can be gifted to that person in the owner's will.

Another increasingly popular estate planning option is the use of a trust to provide for a pet's future care. A trust can be funded to cover the expenses of food, veterinary care, and other pet needs after the passing of its owner.

Washington residents who own pets should consider planning for the future of their animals as part of a comprehensive estate plan. A pet is often also a loved one, and certain estate planning tools are available to provide for pets if they outlive their human family members.

Source: Forbes, "If you love your dog (or cat or gerbil), read this," Deborah L. Jacobs, Feb. 14, 2012

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