For many, pets are like family. And, like family, we want to be sure they are cared for when the unthinkable happens. Pet care is not always the first thing that comes to mind when preparing a will or other estate planning documents, but there are numerous ways to express wishes regarding your pet’s care in your will. In this article, we will discuss the different ways in which you can provide for your pets in your will, whether you are just beginning your estate planning journey or wish to find out more about how you can include your pets in your will.
Can I Leave Money or Property to a Pet in My Will?
Unfortunately, you cannot leave money or property to your pet in your will. Case law across Canada has clearly established that pets are considered property and, therefore, cannot own or inherit assets.
It is important to note, however, that there are numerous other approaches you can take to ensure that your pets are adequately provided for after your death. The following items are critical considerations if you’re thinking about estate planning for pets.
Designate a Caretaker for Your Pet
It’s important to identify a person or persons who will be able to look after your pets after you’re gone, much like you would designate a guardian for minor children. For most people, the best option will be to identify a family member or close friends (and, importantly, to let them know about your intentions when creating or modifying your will).
You can also identify secondary caretakers for your pets in your will in case the primary caretaker passes away before you or refuses to comply with your wishes.
Designate an Organization to Care for Your Pet
If your family or close friends are incapable or unwilling to look after your pets, you can designate a shelter or other organization to care for your pet (or, you could name an organization as a secondary caretaker in the event that a named friend or family member is unable to care for your pet). While this option may not be ideal for some, it gives you the option of choosing where your pets go and, therefore, more control over the process.
As an example, the Ottawa Humane Society has a pet stewardship program that allows you to leave your pet to them after your death. The Ottawa Humane Society takes immediate custody of your pet and places it in foster care until they can find a loving home for them.
Leaving Money Aside for Pet Care
In addition to identifying a caregiver for your pet, it is wise to leave money to the designated caregiver for the purpose of providing pet care. This money can help ease your caretaker’s potential concerns about the financial impact of caring for your pet (as many of us know, caring for a pet can come with unexpected, expensive costs).
Planning for Incapacity
Estate planning for pets isn’t just a concern when drafting your will-it’s also important to plan for your pet’s care if you are incapacitated.
A trust is an agreement where one person holds property for another person. There are many kinds of trusts. Commonly, estate planners will implement trusts to pass property – including pets – to a trustee after death. While you can’t make your pet a “trust fund baby” as they don’t have standing to directly inherit money through the trust, you can use a trust to designate a “beneficiary” and to make any funds received from the trust conditional upon them taking care of your pet.
Powers of attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that allows another individual to act on your behalf if you are incapacitated. A power of attorney may include provisions regarding the care of pets should you become incapable of doing so. It is important to keep in mind that a power of attorney expires upon your death, so it should only be viewed as one piece of a larger estate planning strategy for your pets.
Other Important Considerations for Estate Planning for Pets
In addition to planning for pet care in a will or other estate planning document, pet owners also consider the following:
Plan for the unexpected
Though it’s unpleasant to consider, accidents can happen. Make sure that, no matter what happens to you, someone can get to your pets quickly. Ensure that a family member or close friend has information regarding your pet’s care (including their feeding schedule, medication, location, and other important information) and can get to them if an emergency strikes.
Additionally, carrying an emergency pet care card (which you can create yourself or buy online) in your wallet is an excellent way to ensure someone rendering assistance can reach your designated family member or close friend to assist your pets.
Talk to your prospective caretakers beforehand
It’s important to let caretakers know about your intention to designate them as your pet’s caretaker ahead of time to ensure they are comfortable with the arrangement and understand your expectations regarding pet care.
Consider arrangements between death and distribution of your estate
Depending on your estate’s circumstances, your caretaker may not have immediate access to your pet. Consequently, it is important to consider arrangements for your pet between the time of your death and the time at which your executor is able to distribute your estate. This is another situation where reaching out to a family member or close friend is a good idea to ensure that someone is looking after your pets until your estate is settled.
The Need for Estate Lawyers when Planning for Pets
To avoid uncertainty regarding your pet’s care after you pass away, it’s imperative that you consider estate planning for pets. With an estate plan in place, you can dictate how and where you want your pets to be cared for. The assistance of an experienced estate planner can help you make the decisions you need to ensure your pets are in safe hands.
Contact the Estate Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP for Comprehensive Estate Planning
At Tierney Stauffer LLP, we take a client-focused approach to our work, providing innovative guidance through the estate planning and administration process. We know how important pets are to many of our clients and will do everything in our power to ensure your interests regarding their care are preserved. Whether you’re planning for the care of your beloved pet or seeking other estate planning assistance, our estate lawyers have extensive experience and will work to secure the results you need to move forward. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a consultation with an experienced wills and estates lawyer.