There are approximately 24 million pets in Australia, with about 62% of Australian households owning pets. Despite this, very rarely do we remember to include our beloved pets in our Wills. It is common for people share a close bond with their pets. For many of us, our pet cats, dogs or other animals, birds and reptiles are considered family. This is particularly the case with people who have outlived or lost touch with family and friends. It is important to consider what happens to your furry best friend in the event that you are outlived by them.
Pets are property
Legally speaking, pets are considered property. As is the case with all property, pets can be left as gifts in a Will. You can’t leave gifts for your pets in your Will (as much as you may wish to do so!). If you don’t specifically identify your pet in your Will, they will form part of the residue of your estate (https://vimeo.com/384928103).
Ways to benefit your pets in your Will
While you can’t specifically leave a gift or inheritance for your pet, there are other ways in which you can ensure that your pet benefits from your estate.
- Nominate someone to look after your pet when you are not around.
Not everyone is an animal person! Therefore, you should think carefully about who the ideal person would be to adopt your pet. This could be a family member or close friend who you know loves animals. It is important that this person is aware that you wish for them to look after your pet. Preparing a detailed pet care plan to accompany your Will may also be of great assistance to your nominated carer. This document may include things such as health concerns, dietary restrictions or temperament issues – things easily forgotten if only expressed verbally.
Furthermore, it is vital for your pet’s welfare that this person is willing to take on the responsibility of looking after your pet. Otherwise, this may come as an unwelcome surprise, which may not be beneficial for either your pet or your nominated carer. Ideally, your nominated carer is someone who you know would embrace welcoming your dog, cat or other pet into their life. The death of a close family member or loved one is overwhelming enough, without having to decide on the future of their pet. Nominating someone to adopt your pet avoids uncertainty and stress for both your pet and your executor, in an already emotionally challenging time.
- Leave money in a trust fund for your pet.
The best method of guaranteeing the ongoing care of your pet is by establishing a trust. This ensures that your pet is well looked after financially and relieves the burden on the person you have chosen to look after your pet. You may decide to give your nominated carer access to the funds in this trust account, to be used solely for the care of your pet. If you do not have complete faith in the pet carer’s ability to manage these funds, it may be prudent to nominate another person to manage the money for the care of your pet.
The trust can be structured in a way which enables you to direct where these funds are distributed when your pet dies. For example, you can direct that any funds remaining in your pet’s trust account be distributed to your beneficiaries, or, alternatively to a charity. Setting up a trust fund for your pet provides certainty for your best friend when you are no longer around. This also provides a simple mechanism for the person you have nominated to care for your pet and finance your pet’s needs.
Avoid disputes regarding your pet
Formalising the care arrangements for your pet avoids potential disputes which may arise when there are surplus funds held in trust after your pet passes away. Formal arrangements for your pet will also minimise the risk that your nominated carer will spend the money on something other than the care of your pet.
Don’t rely on verbal agreements
You may have a verbal, informal agreement with a close friend about looking after your pet if the unexpected happens. However, these agreements are often easily forgotten, and they aren’t legally enforceable. Circumstances change, people move away or fall out of touch. It is best to carefully plan for your pet instead of leaving their future open to chance.
Certainty for your pet’s future can be provided through carefully crafted clauses in your Will. Please contact Charlie Robinson of our office (03 9435 9044) if you have any questions concerning this.
This is general information only. Please contact us for expert legal advice that takes your unique personal situation into account prior to making any decisions based on this article