Can You Include Pets in Your Will?

Can you include pets in your will?

A growing number of pet-owning Canadians are revising their Wills to include their four-legged family members.

Though the idea may seem a bit bizarre, the reasons for including pets in your will are quite the same as including a child:

  • As a safety precaution should the owners pass away before the pet.
  • To avoid the care of your pet being left to a family member who is not financially capable, especially if your pet has medical requirements.
  • To avoid the future of your pet being unknown and them potentially being put up for adoption or sent to a shelter upon your passing.

The most famous example of this trend is U.S. billionaire Leona Helmsley, who in 2007 attempted to leave $12 million dollars to her white maltese, Trouble.

“‘Very often, people are closer to their pets than they are to their other family members or children,” says (Barry) Seltzer, who has been drawing up wills for pets in his Toronto-area office for decades.

Barry Seltzer, Toronto Lawyer, Globe and Mail

If you’re thinking about including your pets in your Will, make sure you:

  • Choose an amount that is appropriate for the anticipated costs of the animal (medical bills, emergency situations, regular upkeep, etc.).
  • Leave a fixed sum of money, not an annual amount, so that funds cannot continue to be withdrawn after the pet is deceased.
  • Do not trust a verbal agreement; record your decisions in a written contract (like your Will.)
  • Make sure that when you make your decisions, you make the people involved aware of your wishes.

Adding Your Pets to Your Will? Ask These Five Questions

Never assume someone will step in and take ownership of your pets.

You should treat them as children and leave instructions for who should take care of them and the financial support to accomplish it. Ask these five questions to help prepare:

1. Does your pet have any dietary or health needs?

Include directions for special food and any scheduled medication that your pet needs.

2. Will your pet require a shelter plan?

Decide where your pet will reside in the case of accident, death, or injury. Decide if adoption is the best course of action, or if a family member can provide for them.

3. Are your pet’s vaccination and shots up to date?

Include complete vaccination records and intervals between each visit. Name the preferred veterinary clinic and specialist to maintain some level of consistency for your pet.

4. When do you want your pet to receive their inheritance?

If you are leaving a significant amount of money in your pet’s trust, you will want to include a time frame for the distribution and withdrawal of that money. Make this adjustment to protect your pet’s identity and the funds in the trust.

5. Is there a time-limit for the funds?

Another precaution that advisors recommend is creating a termination date for distributing and withdrawing funds from your pet’s trust account. This will protect your pet against fraud and theft.

“There’s a risk that when the cat dies, and the person doesn’t want to stop taking their [money, so] they’ll go out and buy a cat that looks exactly like the other cat so they don’t have to stop…”

– Gideon Rothschild, Chair, Moses and Singer’s law firm.

Who Will Take Care of Your Pet?

Don’t leave your Executor trying to find your pet a new home, make plans for who will be the one to care for them. We recommend you follow these three steps:

  1. Delegate a Trustee. The trustee will be responsible for controlling the money and will choose how and when the funds will be paid out.
  2. Choose a Caretaker. The caretaker holds responsibility for looking after the pet’s well-being and physical health. A caretaker will request money for paying any vet bills or buying essential needs, such as food or a walker.
  3. Include an Enforcer. The enforcer will ensure that the trustee and caretaker don’t mishandle the funds intentionally or accidentally. If you fail to include an enforcer into your estate plan, the courts can appoint one on your behalf.

Don’t have a Will? You can use our free Will Preparation Guide to get started.

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