Pet planning - The new frontier

The number of families that include furry friends among their members has increased exponentially in recent years, and correspondingly more people are inclined to make some provision in their wills for their pets should the pets outlive them.

While we do hear crazy stories about wealthy eccentrics leaving millions of dollars to their pets by way of a gift in their wills (apparently Oprah has provided $30 million in a trust fund for her five dogs!), it is becoming increasingly popular to make a modest allowance in a will to provide proper care for pets who outlive their owners.

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Under B.C. law, all pets and other domestic animals, ranging from house cats to horses, are considered personal property of their owners and so it is not legally possible (nor recommended) to name a pet as a beneficiary of our estates in a will.

Pet owners can, however, name someone in their will (called a trustee) to manage a sum of money (called a trust fund) that will be available after death of the pet’s owner to provide for the expenses of caring for the pet for the rest of its life. Any expenses identified in the will can be included. For example, food, vet bills and even lodging for larger animals such as horses would be appropriate expenses that could be paid for out of the trust fund.

You can also appoint someone in your will to be the pet’s “guardian” that may be a different person from the person appointed as trustee of the money. The guardian would be in charge of taking “custody” of the pet, and in this instance, the trustee would then provide the guardian with sufficient money from the trust fund to pay all the expenses necessary to keep the pet well fed and cared for during its lifetime.

It is also important to consider what is to happen to any money left in the trust fund after the pet’s death. One popular choice is to appoint a charity (there are many charities which promote animal rights for example) to inherit any funds that are not spent on the pet during its life.

While wills have (perhaps rightly) earned a reputation as documents that don’t always reflect our current societal norms, the increasing inclusion of pet trusts in estate planning documents does provide some evidence to the contrary.

David Severide leads the estate planning team at Severide Law in Ladner.

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