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Creating A Living Will For Your Fish

By Raychel Upright

As aquarists, we spend considerable amounts of time with our fish and inverts. Many of us have special bonds with certain “wet pets”. Some have devoted significant amounts of time to working on special breeding projects or maintaining at risk species. You may have a plan for what to do if the power goes out in a storm, or a fish becomes ill. But have you considered what would happen to your fish or fish room if something were to happen to you?

Most people, me included, do not enjoy thinking about their eventual demise or the possibility of developing a serious illness or disability that prevents them from doing the things they enjoy. But it gives me peace of mind to have a plan in place in case of an emergency, especially in cases where our families and close friends may be ill equipped to take care of our fish should something happen to us. YouTuber Zenzo Tazawa of Tazawa Tanks tackles this topic in his video What Will Happen to ALL of My FISH TANKS If I DIE?:

In this video, Mr. Tazawa states that he has a packet in his fish room for his family which contains two contingency plans for his wife to use in the event of an emergency. The first is a plan to be used if he is incapacitated for a relatively short time. For example, if he was in a coma or was seriously ill or injured and unable to communicate or care for his fish. He assures his spouse the fish will be fine if they are not fed for the first few days. Also included is the detailed contact information of a fishkeeping friend that lives close by who can help if needed.

The second set of instructions is to be implemented if Mr. Tazawa dies. These instructions again include detailed contact information for family members and other individuals who will be able to help care for the fish and make decisions about their care. He also includes information for an organization that can come to his home to collect fish for donation. These instructions function as a sort of “living will” for his fish.

The type of arrangement detailed in this YouTube video may not be considered a legal will, but I think it may be worth considering in the following circumstances: If you have a spouse, significant other or other family member that resides with you that you can leave a plan with, they may be unfamiliar with caring for fish and/or would not be able to do so if something were to happen to you. In my case, my husband is not familiar with caring for fish and never considered having a fish tank before he met me. I have communicated with him that my mother, grandmother and aunt would be able to help in the event of an emergency and he has their contact information.

When preparing instructions, communication with your family/spouse is key. It is possible that they may want to keep some of the fish/tanks/invertebrates for sentimental reasons, but they do not currently help take care of the fish. If your fish room is not large or you focus on one specific family of fish i.e. cichlids or livebearers, it may be pertinent to include information and resources on how to care for these specific types/species of fish. If you are single you may consider making more formal written arrangements designating two consenting responsible friends or relatives as temporary caregivers in case of emergency. If your temporary caregivers are not familiar with fish of course it is important to familiarize them with your tanks/fish room and leave detailed written instructions/resources for how to care for the fish.

You may also designate a consenting permanent caregiver or caregivers who should be contacted in the case of your death to take care of your fish or other aquatic life. This may be a good option if you have a fish that you consider a “wet pet”, CARES species, species that require highly specialized care (very large tank/pond space, live food etc.) or species which require legal permits to keep in captivity or are not legal in neighboring states. In some cases, it may be possible to donate fish to a local aquarium or other local entity in the case of native fish or other species of interest. PVAS can also help collect fish and equipment for donation or sale at an auction on a case by case basis.

In conclusion, it is important to have a plan in place in case of an emergency for your fish room. It is also important that you communicate with your plan your family, friends and designated caregivers. You may also contact a lawyer for specific legal advice for drafting living will, Power of Attorney, living trust or for species which require special permits.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer. The above information is intended as general information to foster thought and conversation about providing for your fish room/tanks in the event of your incapacity or death. It is not intended as legal advice.

Tazawa, Zenzo. “What Will Happen to ALL of My FISH TANKS If I DIE?” YouTube, YouTube, 17 July 2019,

“Providing for Your Pet's Future Without You.” Petfinder,

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