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Pet Clause In A Will

After you’ve recovered from the sleep deprivation of having a child, one of the first things on your (massive) to-do list is estate planning. It’s almost unthinkable, but dying without a Will as a parent does happen, even though it’s the last thing anyone wants for their children.

But what about your pets? What happens to them when pet owners don’t outlive them?

Pets are like family, and arrangements should be made to make sure they’re cared for by a new owner if something happens to you.

Most people agree that pets should be included as part of the estate planning process: 76% of pet owners feel it’s important to care for their pet in the event of death or illness.

But only 7% of people actually have a plan in place.

Our theory about this disparity comes down to knowledge—many people don’t think to include their pets in their Will, or they don’t know how.

Keep reading to find out exactly how to make sure your pet lives their best life with a new caretaker in the event of your death.

What does a pet clause look like in a Will?

It sounds strange, but in many provinces, pets are considered property.

That means your pet clause won’t look the same as one that specifies guardianship for children. Instead, it will look similar to sections of your Will that describe assets like a home or valuable gifts, left to beneficiaries rather than guardians. It may seem crude, but from a legal perspective, the distinction is important.

Even though you legally can’t name a guardian for your pet, you can still leave your pet to a specific person: a guardian to you and your pet, but not in the eyes of the law. And that’s just 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

 

Two things are important to remember when you’re drafting a pet clause:

  1. It’s better not to name your pet in your Will. If your pet dies and you get a new one without updating your Will, it could cause confusion.
  2. Always choose a main beneficiary and a backup beneficiary as an alternative pet owner. You’ll want to make sure there is another option in the event of your death, in case your main beneficiary changes their mind or cannot accept your pet for whatever reason.

What are the steps to including my pet in my estate planning?

When you pass, you’ll want to make sure your pet is cared for immediately. Interruptions in care for your pet can cause distress, and we’re sure that’s the last thing you want for your beloved companion.

Here’s a step-by-step process for a smooth transition for your pet after you pass.

1. Choose your main pet beneficiary and have a conversation.

Before you write your Will, choose someone you trust to take care of your pets and ask if they’re interested in the role.

You never want someone to feel surprised that you’ve entrusted them with your dog or cat (after all, they have the right to refuse when the time comes). Instead, be proactive and have a conversation about what would happen after you pass.

Write a plan with your chosen guardian about what would happen immediately after you die. Specify that you want them to care for your pet right away, and let them know what they’ll need to do so.

2. Choose a back up pet beneficiary … and have another conversation.

After you speak with your main beneficiary, choose an alternative and have a conversation with that person as well. Let them know that you’ve chosen a main caregiver for your pet, but that you want them to be ready to take on the role in case your main beneficiary cannot.

Then have the same conversation with your alternative beneficiary about how to care for your pet in the event of your death.

3. Draft your basic pet clause.

When you write your Will, include a basic clause that describes your pet, names your main beneficiary, and names your alternative beneficiary. Use the template above as a start.

Learn about the basics of drafting a Will here.

4. Secure the financial care of your pet.

You may have heard some outlandish stories about pets receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of their owners’ Will.

In Ontario, however, you cannot leave a sum of money or other assets to your pets. You cannot even set up a trust fund for your pet guardian to access so they can care for the animal.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t leave money in your estate plan to have taken care of the essentials.

How do I set aside funds for my pet guardian?

In some places, you can establish what’s called a “pet trust”. A pet trust is an amount of money you leave for your pet guardian in your estate plan, which they access to pay for food, medication, and veterinary bills.

In Ontario, however, you can’t set up a pet trust for the benefit of an animal. Remember how pets are considered more like money or property? That also means they can’t be the beneficiary of pet trust, even if the trustee (the person managing the money) is your pet’s caregiver. But you still have some options other than a straightforward pet trust fund.

If you trust someone with your pet, odds are you can trust them with a cash legacy. A cash legacy is just a lump sum of money for the care of your pet. While you can’t terms of the trust or how the money is used, you can specify that the person will only be able to use the money if they accept your pet––but after that, how they spend the money is up to them.

Another option is to set up a trust for the pet guardian, not the pet––but this is a bit more complicated. For this to work, you need to choose a separate trustee to manage the money for the human beneficiary.

If you choose this kind of trust, you’ll also want to specify a residuary beneficiary: someone who receives the rest of the money if your pet passes away and the money hasn’t all been spent. But be careful: you want this person to be someone other than your pet guardian so that no one skimps out on care for the sake of cashing out later.

When you’re having your initial conversation with your chosen pet guardian, make a list, in writing, of standard pet care items like:

Day-to-day basic costs

Maybe you’re the type of dog owner who gives their pet special, high-end food. Or maybe your cat has really become accustomed to litter crystals instead of clumping litter. Either way, you’ll need to tell your chosen guardian how much you spend on basic items like food, litter, treats, etc.

Routine vet care

If your pet is young, you may not spend a lot on vet care at the moment. But that will change with age. Do some digging to find out how much vet bills can cost as your pet ages, and make sure to leave enough for your pet guardian to care for them as a geriatric animal.

Emergency vet bills

If your dog has ever eaten something hazardous and had to be rushed to the emergency vet’s office, you know how much it can hurt … your bank account. Anticipate that the same thing may happen to your pet’s guardian, and leave enough behind for a few emergencies.

What if I don’t have anyone to take my pet?

If you can’t see yourself leaving your pet to anyone in your life, you could try to find a pet stewardship program at a humane society instead.

The Ottawa Humane Society, for example, offers a bequest program for the care of your pet. To enroll, you would need to sign an agreement, specify some care instructions … and pay an enrollment fee of $10,000.

But if you have the money and no guardianship option, the program is a way to ensure continuous care for your pet. When you die, the shelter would take immediate custody and place your pet in foster care before finding a forever home. The shelter also doesn’t euthanize animals except when there is serious disease or behavioural issues.

Another plus? Medical care is guaranteed for the rest of your pet’s life.

We know it’s unpleasant to think about leaving your pet to someone else during your estate planning process. But when you take the time to make sure your whole family is well cared for if something happens to you, you’ll be able to rest a little easier.