“Who Gets Dad's Dog?" The Guide to Inheriting Pets

The death of a family member can be extremely stressful in many ways. Not only do you have to deal with the loss of a loved one, but sometimes you also have to deal with the legal aftermath, often involving probate law. Preparation beforehand can help make the process go smoother, but one thing that is often forgotten in the preparations is what happens to the deceased’s pets.

Who Gets The Pet?

If the deceased family member has named a person whom he or she would like to take care of his or her pet, that is the person who will be the caregiver by default. However, in some cases, no specific caregiver has been named. In these cases, the person who has been named as the executor of your family member’s will has the authority to make these decisions.

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Inheriting a Pet

Inheriting a pet is not the same as inheriting money or possessions. You have to remember that this is a living, breathing being who needs care and an appropriate home. In fact, the person who was named as the pet’s caregiver may or may not actually be able to provide this for the pet. If this individual cannot or does not want to take care of the pet, he or she cannot be forced to do so. In that case, it will be as if no caregiver was named, and the will’s executor will have to decide to most suitable person for the animal to go to.

Signs of Grief in Pets

Animals like dogs, cats, and birds are well known to “grieve” for deceased owners. He or she may be grieving for a while and may exhibit behaviors that make things difficult for the new owner. These behaviors include lethargy, depression, clinginess, or even waiting at the door for the deceased loved one to come back for them.

It is important to attend to the animal’s emotional needs, as emotional problems can be very serious and sometimes even lead to physical problems. This can be as simple as taking a day or two off work to comfort and distract them. Other signs of grief can be more severe, for example refusal to eat. Obviously, if a pet stops eating, he or she can starve to death. In this situation, the new owner would need to coax the animal to eat or consult a veterinarian if the problem persists.

If you have been named as caregiver of the pet of a loved one and are not able to live up to the responsibility, it is better to realize and admit this sooner rather than later. This way, the animal will have a better chance of living happily without their owner. You may feel conflicted about declining, because it was the will of your loved one for the animal to go to you. But in this case, the animal’s welfare is at stake, and it is best for everyone involved if the pet is in a home where it is sure to be cared for properly.

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Pet Bereavement Resources for Pet Loss