For so many of us, pets are valued family members. We spoil them with treats and toys, we celebrate their birthdays, include them in our family photos and love them unconditionally. But while we provide for our children, grandchildren and other family members when creating an estate plan – we often forget about our furry family members.
The reason for overlooking them in the estate planning process may be because legally pets are considered personal property. They cannot inherit money directly in your Will, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot financially provide for them in your estate plan.
People may also assume that family or friends will take on pets when we pass, but with the cost of taking care of animals, restrictions on keeping pets at rentals or in a strata, pet allergies and other logistics, it is not a sure thing that your pet will find a new home.
Some notable pets have benefited greatly from their owner’s estate planning. The richest dog in the world is reportedly a German Shepherd named Gunther VI, whose $500 million net worth originated from a German Countess who left $80 million in her will to her dog, Gunther III (Gunther VI’s grandfather), which was later invested by the managers of the dog’s estate into various luxury properties. Now that’s a good pawfit!
The average person may not have an extra $80 million lying around to provide for their pet, but we can all plan ahead to make sure our pets end up in loving homes with enough financial support to pay for veterinarian bills and grooming costs.
There are a number of options available to create an estate plan that suits your pet’s needs while fitting neatly within your larger estate plan.
One option is to expressly state in your Will which person you wish to “gift” your pet to. Make sure to discuss with that person ahead of time, to ensure that they are able to and wish to take on your pet as their own.
If you’re not certain which person to give your pet to, you can leave it to the discretion of your executor and trustee to find a suitable pet owner. If you have more than one pet, you can state that you wish for your pets to be kept together, wherever they go. If your children are minors and you want your children to be with their pets, you can state that the pets be given to your children’s guardian.
In order to address the financial cost of pet ownership, you can choose to provide a cash gift to the person who receives your pets to be used for their care or simply as a token of your appreciation. This will ensure that whoever you appoint to take care of your pets can afford the often high cost of pet ownership.
A pet can live for a long time, and the cost of taking care of a pet may be hard to predict. In this case, a trust set up for your pet could be the best option. This allows you to set aside an amount of money in a fund with a trustee. The trustee manages the trust and can use the funds for your pet’s care. A Will-maker can provide instructions about how the funds are to be used and direct what happens to the funds once the pet passes away. There can be cost to setting up a trust as tax returns will need to be filed each year for the trust. The trust cannot be extended past 21 years after the date of death of the Will-maker.
Please reach out to one of our estate lawyers to determine which option would work best for you.
This article is intended to be an overview of the law and is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that this article does not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Rather, readers should obtain specific legal advice in relation to the issues they are facing