I have had my dog, Jackie, for 8 years and she is still young at heart with many more years to go. When I started thinking about my own estate plan, I realized Jackie needed to be a part of it and I took steps to make sure my companion and friend would not fall through the cracks if and when I am no longer able to care for her.
Many of my clients have expressed similar concerns to me about their pets. Some clients have horses or exotic birds with long life spans and expensive upkeep. Other clients, like me, have dogs or cats who they consider to be part of the family.
Pets in Canada are living assets and you cannot leave a direct gift to a pet in your Will, but you may still plan for the well-being of your pets in your estate planning documents.
In my case, I had discussions with family to make sure more than one person was willing to give Jackie a home and made provisions in my Power of Attorney and my Will ensuring that Jackie would be financially taken care of to minimize the financial burden on the person who gave Jackie a home.
It is important to have discussions with the people or person to whom you want to gift your pet because such a gift may be declined. I also suggest having a back up person in case your first choice becomes unable to give your pet a suitable home.
I often include non-binding statements in a Will expressing the hopes and requests of the pet owner about who will take and maintain pets. Even though these statements have no true legal force, their inclusion in your Will gives them considerable weight and places a moral obligation on your executor and the future caregiver for your pets.
Another way to provide for the care of a pet after your death is to establish a trust in your Will, but most of my clients choose to leave a cash gift to the future caregiver of their pets. Typically, such a cash gift is in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 to cover basic and veterinary expenses. If you have an unusual pet, such as an exotic bird, you may want to leave a larger amount given the longevity or special needs of the pet.
There have been instances in Canada of pet owners requesting their pets be euthanized after the pet owner’s death, but such a request likely would not be upheld in court where the executor or responsible person refuses to follow the request.
You should also consider what will happen to your pets if you lose capacity or become mentally or physically unable to properly care for your pets during your lifetime. To ensure your pets’ essential needs and upkeep are met in this type of scenario, you may want to include in your Power of Attorney the authority to make such payments to the future caregiver of your pets.
Proper estate planning for your pets allows you to decide what you would like to happen with your pets and gives you the opportunity to discuss your wishes with loved ones, which in turn should give you peace of mind about the fate of your furry friends.