Estate Planning for Pets

Did you know…[1]

Did you know that pets are property? Have you considered what will happen to your pets if something happens to you?

If you have furry family members (and I don’t mean dear old Uncle Mort), or those with feathers or scales (still not Uncle Mort), you may worry about what will happen to them if something happens to you.  Fortunately there are both legal and other options so you can rest easier, knowing that your pets will be cared for.

What happens if you die?  If you have specific wishes about who inherits your pets, it is important that you make those wishes known, both to the people you have selected and to anyone else who might think they have a stake in that decision.  Of course you should then back those wishes up by writing them into your Will.  The law views your pets as “property”, and you can make a gift in your Will of your pets to a friend or family member in the same way you might make a gift of your wedding china.  You may also wish to leave a cash gift in your Will to the person who agrees to be your pet caretaker, perhaps as a small token of your huge appreciation or in anticipation of future pet care costs.  You can also set up a more formal trust for your pets’ benefit, in which you appoint a trustee to look after your pets and administer any funds you include in the trust for your pets’ benefit.

Less commonly considered, but perhaps more important, is what happens to your pets if something happens to you but you’re no longer able to look after them yourself.  Again, if you know someone that you wish to take custody of your pets if you are sidelined (whether temporarily or for the long-term), always ensure that person knows, and that your close family members know how to contact that person.  If you don’t have someone that you feel comfortable leaving in charge of your pets, the BC SPCA offers a Pet Survivor Care Program and, if your pets are enrolled in the program, the BC SPCA will care for and shelter your pets and work to find them a new home.  The Pet Survivor Care Program offers three levels of service:  a free Basic plan, a mid-level Silver plan, and a premium Gold plan.  The Silver and Gold plans require that you leave the BC SPCA a minimum gift in your Will, so if you have charitable intentions, this may be a good way to combine support for your pets with your charitable wishes.

In any event, we recommend that you work with a lawyer to ensure that your wishes are accurately documented.  Any member of our Wills, Estates + Trusts practice group would be pleased to answer any questions you might have and to work with you to develop a suitable estate plan for you (that includes your pets, and perhaps Uncle Mort).

[1] This is the fourth entry in our blog min-series entitled “Did You Know”, providing practical tips for navigating a variety of wills, estates, and trust micro-issues.