For many Canadians, a dog, cat or rabbit is not just a pet – it’s your companion and a beloved family member. So naturally, you want to make sure they’ll be well taken care of after you’re gone.
But ensuring that your best friend is protected if you’re no longer around requires some advance planning and perhaps, a few honest discussions. Here’s how to gain some reassurance about their future:
Have the conversation: While many people assume that family and friends would step in and adopt their pet if they were no longer around, Danielle Tatarski, manager, legacy giving at the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) says a number of factors — like finances, space or simply not wanting to take on the responsibility —may mean this is not always the case.
As a result, she says, it’s essential to sit down and talk through guardianship issues with those you have in mind to look after your pets.
“Take the time to have that discussion with people you would want to care for your animal, and also be willing to care for your animal, whether they can realistically commit to it,” says Tatarski.
While family and friends are often the ideal choices, there are other options to explore if this isn’t possible.
Pet Stewardship Programs — including one offered by the OHS — enable pet owners to make a legal agreement in their will to bequeath their pet, and a set amount of funds for its future care, to the society upon their death. After the owner passes away, the society finds a permanent caregiver within the community, covers vet costs for the pet’s lifetime and ensures the owner’s wishes for the animal’s care are carried out.
Get it in writing: As Suzana Gartner Vlaovic, an animal rights lawyer with Gartner & Associates Animal Law in Toronto explains, while the majority of pet owners consider it important to make arrangements for their pets in their wills, only a third actually make these provisions.
However, if a pet is not properly accounted for in an estate plan, she says, the person entrusted with caring for the animal may not receive the appropriate funding. Once you’ve found a willing and able pet guardian, the next step is to formalize the arrangement.
“Anyone who is considering incorporating a clause within their will to account for their pet’s needs in the event their pet outlives them, should advise an experienced wills lawyer,” she says. “In all situations, the pet’s guardian should be identified, and instructions for care should be sufficiently detailed.”
One option, she says, is to gift your pet to a guardian, along with money for the animal’s care and maintenance. However, this provides no guarantee that the individual will follow the care instructions you have provided.
Another possibility is to establish a pet trust via a clause included in your will. As pets are considered ‘personal property,’ it is not advisable to leave them money directly, says Gartner Vlaovic. Instead, with this option, a trustee will hold and provide funds to a beneficiary for the animal’s needs including instructions for the use of the money for the pet’s care.
Consider the financials: It is important to be realistic when estimating the amount to leave for your pet’s future, says Tatarski. Start by tallying up your animal’s annual costs – things like vet bills, food costs, grooming and an amount for unexpected medical costs. Those signing up for the OHS Pet Stewardship Program, for example, are required to leave behind $10,000 for each pet, based on the life expectancies of most animals.
Including your pet in your estate planning may go a long way towards eliminating the worry around what their future may hold if they outlive you.
“People are just getting a lot more peace of mind knowing that they can, in advance, plan for their animal’s care — most people see an animal as their own child,” says Tatarski.