Providing for Your Pet After Your Death
“I hereby bequeath, that at my death, 50 pounds per annum be paid for her keep in some park in England or Wales; her shoes to be taken off, and she never to be ridden or put in harness; and that my executor consider himself in honour bound to fulfil my wish, and see that she be well provided for . . . . At her death all payment to cease.”
This touching testament to the bond between pet and owner was written in a 19th century will. In this case, the courts enforced the owner’s wishes and the horse was taken care of. The deceased and their pets have not always been so fortunate – courts have been know to not enforce pet requests that were too “odd” or “whimisical” – feeding sparrows, for example.
Over the centuries owners have tried (failing and succeeding) to provide for their animals after their passing. We love our pets (sometimes more than our human relatives) and responsible ownership includes what happens to them after we’re gone.
The short answer is – find someone you trust to look after your pet.
Longer answer is – find someone you trust to look after your pet, then find a lawyer to draft the appropriate clauses in your will.
For many people, I suspect their pets never make it into the will. People assume that 1) they will outlive their pets (no one wants to be constantly re-drafting their will for each gerbil), or 2) the deceased’s human relations, out of their own innate love for the pet, or human decency, or respect for the deceased, will care for their pets. My grandmother’s cat, for instance, ended up with my mother when my grandmother became too ill to care for it, and then stayed with my parents when my grandmother passed. The situation seems to be working out fine for both my mother and the cat. For many parties such happy endings are not always the case. Pets can be a lot of work – both time and expense – and the passing of a loved one is stressful for all involved – proper estate planning is a means of reducing familial stress, and your pet should be part of that. The more expensive, time-consuming, and long-living your pet is, the more important that it be adequately considered in estate planning.
Steps you can take to ensure your pet’s well-being:
1. Prepare an ‘Animal Card’ and an ‘Animal Document’.
The animal card should be carried on the owner’s person at all times (wallet or purse) and should contain all necessary information for the short term care of the pet in the event of the owner being incapacitated. Information such as name, medical and diet requirements, and how to obtain access to the pet so that emergency personal are aware that there is an animal relying on the return of its owner. The animal document should contain similar information, and be kept with the will and other estate planning documents.
2. Create an Inter Vivos or a Testamentary Trust to provide for your pet.
Which legal instrument is right for you is a discussion you should have with your lawyer – however regardless of your choice you need to find a trustee and a beneficiary/caretaker. The basic idea is that you provide a fund to be distributed by a Trustee and used by a Pet Caretaker. This is a system of checks and balances with the Pet Caretaker requesting funds to provide care, and the Trustee reviewing the financial aspects and releasing funds.
The Pet Caretaker needs to be willing and able to take care of your pet in a manner you find acceptable. Remembering that as your pet ages, it will likely need veterinarian care and/or other special attention, and that the potential caretaker’s situation might change over time. Your single daughter could marry a man with pet allergies, your dog-loving neighbour with the large backyard might be forced to downsize to an apartment overseas. Before selecting someone, your pet and its potential caretaker (and their family) should spend some quality time together. It is also prudent to arrange to have several ‘back up’ caregivers in the event that your first choice becomes unwilling or unable to care for the pet over its lifetime.
The trustee is responsible for distributing (and reviewing) any funds from your estate to the caretaker to appropriately look after your pet . This involves a certain amount of administrative work, and some compensation for the trustee may be appropriate.
3. But can’t I just give a financial gift to a friend or relative in the will, with the understanding that the gift be used to take care of the pet? “I hereby give $3,000 to Mrs. Flowers for the care and feeding of my cat, Fluffy”.
In America, there is no legal way of enforcing that the gift be used to take care of the pet. Mrs. Flowers could drop Fluffy at the pound on the way to her cruise ship vacation. If you have chosen wisely – and found someone with the same principles of pet ownership as you, with the same love of the pet, and you have chosen the appropriate financial amount for the pet’s needs – than it would probably work out fine – but that is a lot of ‘ifs’ and estate planning exists to reduce such uncertainty.
Pets are totally dependent on us, their owners – and part of responsible ownership is to provide for their life beyond ours. Having an animal card & document for their short term needs, and considering them in your estate planning for their long term ones, will help ensure their well-being and your peace of mind.