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What happens when a tortoise outlives its owner? The legal and care challenges of an heirloom pet

By Steve Goldstein, Amber Victoria Singer
Published: Friday, August 26, 2022 - 11:34am
Updated: Monday, August 29, 2022 - 8:37am

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Baby desert tortoises
Amber Singer/KJZZ
Baby desert tortoises at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Center.

Many animal lovers consider their pets to be members of the family. It’s devastating when a dog or cat you love reaches the end of their life, but what happens when your pet outlives you?

There’s actually a term for it: an heirloom pet. A domesticated macaw can live to 50. Your parrot might make it to 70. And then there’s the tortoise.

Tortoises seem like easy animals to care for, but they shouldn’t be adopted without a long-term plan.

Tegan Wolf is a volunteer at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Center, and she helps run the desert tortoise adoption program. The Show drove up to north Phoenix to check it out.

Tegan Wolf
Amber Singer/KJZZ
Tegan Wolf is a volunteer at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Center.

The tortoises are housed outside, behind the wildlife center, in two rows of short, covered corrals. 

The Show spoke with Wolf about what happens when a tortoise outlives its owner.

And to understand more about just how common heirloom pets have become and some of the legal complications, The Show also spoke with estate attorney Michael Tucker.

The conversation began with Tucker explaining how often he deals with clients being concerned about what to do if their pets survive them.

A desert tortoise
Amber Singer/KJZZ
A desert tortoise at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Center.

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Tegan Wolf
Amber Singer/KJZZ
Tegan Wolf is a volunteer at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Center.
Tortoise
Amber Singer/KJZZ
Tortoises seem like easy animals to care for, but they shouldn’t be adopted without a long-term plan.
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