As I write this on April 21st it is my wild-eyed Aussie/Husky dog Ichabod’s birthday. Treats and loads of outside time are on the menu, which is a great day for both of us! Happy Birthday Big Fella.
Many Canadians enjoy the benefits of having a pet. In fact, in 2020, 8.1 million cats and 7.7 million dogs were deemed household pets, so it looks like me and Ichabod are not alone, and that was at the very beginning of the covid pet adoption explosion.
So, what about our animals? What happens to our pets when we pass away?
There are actions you can take in your estate plan to ensure that your pet is cared for when you pass away. Be sure to also include them in your Estate Organizer, as they will need immediate care if something were to happen to you (even if you don’t die).
Dividing up your assets is important obviously, but usually they don’t need food and a walk today (and tomorrow and the next day), so make sure you have a plan, and put it in your Estate Organizer. Especially if your pet needs medication or has special needs.
Most of us agree that pets should be included in estate planning: 76% of pet owners believe it is critical to care for their pets in the event of death or illness.
It is rather surprising then, that only 7% of people actually have a plan in place.
My idea regarding this gap boils down to a lack of knowledge—many individuals don’t think to include their dogs or cats in their Will, or they don’t know how to do so.
In the event that you are no longer able to care for your pet, how can you ensure that your pet has the best life possible with a new caretaker?
How to add a pet to clause to your will (and your Estate Organizer)
It may seem unusual, but pets are considered property in many provinces.
We might not agree with that law, but we want to make sure that our pets are cared for within it.
As a result, your pet clause will differ from one that establishes guardianship for children. It will instead resemble sections of your Will that specify assets such as a home or significant presents that are bequeathed to beneficiaries rather than guardians. It may appear simplistic, but the distinction is significant from a legal standpoint.
Even if you can’t officially identify a guardian for your pet, you can still leave your pet to a specific person: a guardian to you and your pet, but not to the law. That’s perfectly fine.
Here’s what a basic pet clause can look like in your Will:
“I give my pet [cat/dog/bird/other] to [main beneficiary’s full name]. If [main beneficiary’s full name] predeceases me, or if [main beneficiary’s full name] renounces this inheritance because they are unwilling or unable to provide a home for my pet, then I designate [alternative beneficiary’s full name] as the alternative beneficiary for my pet.”
When it comes to the pet provision in your Will, there are two factors to consider.
- It is usually best not to name your pet expressly in your Will. It is possible that if your pet dies and you obtain a new one without changing your Will, this will cause confusion.
- Choose a primary “guardian” and a backup “guardian” at all times. You’ll want to make sure there’s a backup plan in case your first choice changes their mind or is unable to take your pet for whatever reason.
When you die, we’re sure you’ll want to make sure your pet is taken care of right away. Interruptions in pet care might create distress, which we’re sure you don’t want for your cherished friend.
Here are a few steps that you can look at to ensure your pet is well taken care of if you are no longer able to:
Choose your primary pet guardian and have a talk with them.
Choose someone you trust to take care of your pets then sit down and ask them if they’re interested in the role.
You never want someone to be startled that you’ve entrusted them with your dog or cat (after all, they have the choice to refuse). Instead, be proactive and discuss what you would like to happen to your pet after you die.
Make a plan with your designated guardian discussing what will happen shortly after you die. Make it clear that you want them to start caring for your pet immediately and tell them what they’ll need.
Be sure to add it to your Estate Organizer also, along with a list of care requirements and medications. This step will be especially important if you are incapacitated.
Select a backup pet guardian… and have another discussion.
After speaking with your primary pet guardian, select an alternate and chat with them as well. Inform them that you have designated them as the alternate caretaker for your pet, but that you want them to be prepared to step in if your first choice is unable or unwilling to do so.
Make or update your will to include provisions for your pet.
Be sure to include a specific clause that mentions your pet and names your guardians.
Consider the financial implications.
You’ve probably heard some bizarre stories about pets inheriting hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of their owners’ wills. I wrote about the richest dog in the world a while back.
However, in Canada, you cannot leave a sum of money or other possessions to your pets. But it doesn’t mean you can’t leave money in your estate plan to cover what will be necessary to care for your pet.
How do I set aside money for my pet guardian?
A pet trust cannot be established in Canada for the benefit of an animal. Remember how pets are treated like property? That also means they can’t be a trust’s beneficiary, even if the trustee (the person in charge of the money) is your pet’s caretaker. However, you do have some alternative possibilities.
If you trust someone with your pet, chances are you can trust them with your money as well. A cash legacy is just a flat sum of money for your pet’s upkeep. While you can’t stipulate how the money is spent, you can say that the recipient will only be able to use it if they accept your pet; following that, it’s up to them how they use it.
When you first meet with your selected pet guardian, it can be useful to prepare a list of some of the usual pet care items such as regular daily items like food and treats, routine and emergency vet care.
We all understand how difficult it is to consider leaving your pet to someone else throughout the estate planning process. However, if you take the time to ensure that your entire family is well cared for if something were to happen to you, you will be able to rest a bit easier. And your pet will too, even if they miss you. Don’t turn a sad time for them into a tragic one.
THIS ARTICLE IS PROVIDED AS A GENERAL SOURCE OF INFORMATION ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED TO BE PERSONAL INVESTMENT OR LEGAL ADVICE. READERS SHOULD CONSULT WITH THEIR FINANCIAL OR LEGAL ADVISOR TO ENSURE IT IS SUITABLE FOR THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES.