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Our dogs are more than just pets — they’re family members.

When you bring a four-legged companion into your home, you become responsible for their well-being, making sure they’re exercised, fed, and able to do their business, while remaining healthy and happy. In return, they teach you new things, provide unconditional love and devotion, and often help you to branch out in ways you never expected. Many people feel that they become a parent to their dogs just as much as they would to any human child.

But what happens if your dog is still around after you pass on? How can you make sure that he or she will be taken care of? Do you need to set up a trust to take care of your dog? They’re available in 46 states and Washington, D.C., and some people have left millions to ensure proper care of their pets. (The states that have no such laws are Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Mississippi.)

But you don’t need to get that fancy. The answer is fairly simple, really: include your dog in your will.

You need to put a plan in place

Unfortunately, there’s simple — and then there’s simple. If you want your kids taken care of, you leave them money or other assets. But you can’t leave property to a dog because the law considers dogs to be property themselves. You have to do it in a roundabout way, which means coming up with a plan.

Pick a caregiver
Even if you could leave your dog a million dollars, it wouldn’t do much good because dogs aren’t exactly savvy financial planners. If pets don’t have someone to take care of them, often they end up euthanized, so your first order of business is to identify someone you trust to take care of your dog and make sure they’re willing and able to do it.

Name this person in your will as your dog’s caregiver and make sure to select a backup person, too, just in case things change.

Provide money
Once you have a caregiver in place, you state in your will that you want them to receive a certain amount of money to be used to take care of your dog. If the dog dies before you do or that person backs out, they don’t get the money.

And that’s it, really. Do those two things, and you’ve done all you really need to do as far as the law is concerned.

Want to take it a step further without setting up a costly trust? Sit down and write up a “study guide” of sorts about your dog. Does he really love belly rubs more than anything? Can she only eat or drink certain things? Do they have medical conditions? What’s the vet’s contact information? Are there people they really get along with? Is it a bad idea to bring kids around? What is her favorite toy? His favorite place to run?

Give this “guide” to your dog’s future caregiver to help them to get to know your pup, and you’ll be helping to ease the transition if it becomes necessary.

Do you plan to include your dog in your will? Share your plans with us in the comments.

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