Pets are often forgotten when it comes to making a will. Animals do not have the legal personhood that humans do and as such, cannot be addressed in a will. For many pet owners, their pet becomes so much a part of their family that they forget that a pet is in fact property and should be included in the owner’s will to ensure that they are taken care of properly if the owner dies.
How Can I Provide For My Pet?
Pets are not like other property and assets that are disposed of in a will, and there are four main ways for a pet owner to provide for their pet after their death.
- A legacy to a friend or a relative;
- A legal programme or charity;
- A trust; or
1. A Legacy to a Friend or Relative
In your will, you can include a provision leaving your pet to a friend or relative willing to look after him or her. You will also need to leave a sufficient amount of money that will enable the nominated carer to provide for your pet. This provision is not binding, and it is a good idea to check with your friend before nominating them in your will.
In the event your nominated carer dies before your pet, they may also wish to add a provision in their own will. The key issue with this option is whether you have a friend or relative you trust enough to give guardianship of your pet and whether you can trust them to use the funds you provide appropriately.
2. A Legacy Programme or Charity
Organisations such as the RSPCA and the NSW Animal Welfare League run legacy programmes and offer an alternative option for your pet. The programmes are involved with finding new homes for pets or housing the pet in a charity-run facility.
Both these charities promise that your pet will be looked after just as you would have done, and offer the pets proper diets, exercise, play time and veterinary care. You should contact the organisations before preparing your will.
If you prefer your pet find a new home, you should check with the charity as to whether your pet is a suitable candidate. It is typically recommended that older pets are not re-homed as they are less likely to make the adjustment. This would depend on the type of animal and it is a good idea to check this with the charity.
Again, if you choose this option, you should also provide a significant amount of funds to cover the costs of caring for your pet.
3. Setting Up a Trust
As a pet is considered property, it can be treated just like any other gift to a beneficiary. There are difficulties with nominating your pet as the beneficiary of the trust since it does not have the legal personhood required to allow it to make an application to the court if necessary. A trust where the pet is nominated as a beneficiary would normally be deemed ineffective. However, courts have generally held that if the trustee is willing to carry out their obligations relating to the care of the pet, then the trust will be recognised. The trust will be considered a non-binding direction to the executor of the will.
Some pet owners choose to specify in their will that their pet be euthanised. If you decide on this option, it would be a good idea for you to speak with the executor of your will and ensure they are willing to carry out this duty.
How Do I Choose Which Method?
Carefully consider how you wish to prepare your will regarding your pet and which method best suits your circumstances. Your pet’s expected lifespan is another important factor. Some animals may live for a short number of years while others may survive for over 100 and even outlive your nominated carer. Make sure your finances and the amount you put aside for your pet can enable the carer to look after your pet for the remainder of its lifespan. You must also choose someone whom you trust and can reliably care for your pet. It may also be prudent to nominate another person in case your appointed person is unable to take on the pet.
If you have any questions about drafting your will so as to address your family pet, get in touch with our wills and estates lawyers on 1300 544 755.