Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, January 31, 2005

Non-Human but Living Beneficiaries

     Pet animals play an extremely significant role in the lives of many individuals. People own pets for a variety of reasons – they love animals, they enjoy engaging in physical activity with the animal such as playing ball or going for walks, and they enjoy the giving and receiving of attention and unconditional love. Research indicates that pet ownership positively impacts the owner’s life by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and depression, lowering the risk of heart disease, shortening the recovery time after a hospitalization, and improving concentration and mental attitude.

    Over two-thirds of pet owners treat their animals as members of their families. Twenty percent of Americans have even altered their romantic relationships over pet disputes. Pet owners are extremely devoted to their animal companions with 80% bragging about their pets to others, 79% allowing their pets to sleep in bed with them, 37% carrying pictures of their pets in their wallets, and 31% taking off of work to be with their sick pets.

    The number of individuals who own animals is staggering. As many as 33.9 million households in the United States own dogs and 28.3 million own cats. In addition to these traditional pets, Americans also own a wide variety of other animals. For example, there are 11 million households with fish, six million with birds, five million with small animals such as hamsters and rabbits, and three million with reptiles.

    The love owners have for their pets transcend death as documented by studies revealing that between 12% and 27% of pet owners include their pets in their wills. The popular media frequently reports cases which involve pet owners who have a strong desire to care for their beloved companions.

     Attempted gifts in favor of specific animals usually failed for a variety of reasons such as for being in violation of the rule against perpetuities because the measuring life was not human or for being an unenforceable honorary trust because it lacked a human or legal entity as a beneficiary who would have standing to enforce the trust.  The persuasiveness of these two traditional legal grounds for prohibiting gifts in favor of pet animals is waning rapidly under modern law.  In at least one-half of the states, courts and legislatures have been increasingly likely to permit such arrangements by applying a variety of techniques and policies.

     You may follow these links for a general article, state statutes, sample forms, and a comprehensive list of resources on how to provide for non-human family members.


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