August 28, 2023
Many of us consider our pets to be part of the family.
Ontario law considers them to be property.
British Columbia is leading the way with proposed legislation that would treat pets more like family members in the event of a custody dispute. However, this does not appear to extend to the question of what happens to your pets when you die.
As with any other special property, you may provide for your pets in your will. At least three issues will arise.
As with any other property, it will become the responsibility of your estate trustee to care for your pets until your further wishes are carried out. Pets, however, will not wait for the estate trustee to gather the men like other assets. They require food. They require water. They may require exercise or other special care.
Part of your estate planning that will not be included in your will should be to make arrangements with a trusted family member or friend to care for the pets immediately upon your death or serious illness, just as if you were going on a trip. You should make sure that they have the knowledge and ability to provide the necessary care in the short term. Ability includes the time and the resources -food, medicine, a leash if appropriate- or the cash to buy more supplies. You want to avoid having the pets become a burden.
When selecting your estate trustee, if your pets are important to you, one of the many considerations may be whether or not that estate trustee is pet-friendly and aware of your desires. Unlike some other special assets like literary works, we have never heard of a special trustee being appointed for the pets. Though that is arguably possible, avoid being a test case by designating in your will someone to care for the pets during the administration of your estate. As this is a temporary role, all of the same considerations apply as immediately after your death. You should speak with the individual beforehand to ensure that they are willing and able to take on the role.
Which brings us to the ultimate issue – who gets your pet?
It may be as simple as leaving your pet as a gift to an individual, just like you would leave a favourite piece of jewelry. Unlike jewelry, however, there is a cost to maintaining your pet, and this may affect the willingness or ability of the recipient to carry out your wishes. One alternative is to include in your will a pet trust, which sets up a trust fund to pay the expenses of caring for your pet. A simpler and cheaper way to do it may be to leave a gift of money to the person given the pet upon the condition that they agree to care for the pet. A difficulty with the simple option is that it may be difficult to enforce once the money is paid over.
It is always a good idea to make sure that the person to whom you gift your pet wants the pet. Pets need love. This is worth a conversation before drafting your will to make sure the pet is wanted.
WHAT WEILERS LLP CAN DO TO HELP YOU
If you want your wishes about your pets to be carried out after you die, a professionally prepared will is an important tool to make sure your intentions about your pets are carried out.
The estate planning lawyers at Weilers LLP are ready to work with you to prepare a will that reflects your wishes. We ask the right questions and know the right answers to achieve those wishes.
If you are a trustee or potential beneficiary affected by a dispute about pets, Weilers LLP can provide a reliable opinion. If it is necessary to go to court to determine the issue, the Weilers LLP litigation team works closely with the estate planning team to provide effective advocacy in all types of estate litigation, including everything from pets to pearls.