As a Golden Retriever Mom, I understand the desire to ensure your pets would be cared for properly if you cross the Rainbow Bridge before they do. Estate planning will help you accomplish this. Leaving a letter or talking to your family is not legally binding and opens the door to the possibility that your wishes will be ignored and your pets given away, or worse.
In Canada, you can’t leave money (whether through your estate or life insurance) to pets. Pets are classified as property, and property can’t have money. The solution is to leave your pets to a trusted caregiver in your Will and then leave enough money to the caregiver to ensure there is adequate funding to cover your pet’s financial needs. You can leave this money directly to the caregiver and request that they use the funds for the pet or if you want more certainty that the funds will be used properly, you can have a trust set up whereby the caregiver only gains access to the money upon accomplishing certain tasks (i.e. the proper maintenance of the pet). The drawback to the trust is it is costly to set up and may place red tape between the caregiver and funds if something unexpected happens.
The considerations of who to select as caregiver are more practical than legal. Some factors you may want to take into consideration are: Does the potential caregiver have the desire, time and physical ability to be a pet owner? Do they have enough space for your pet and are there any restrictions on them owning a pet (by-laws)? Are there any other issues (small children, other pets, stairs or slippery flooring, allergies)? And possibly most importantly, will this caregiver respect your wishes for appropriate care?
The second decision is how much money to leave for the care of the pet. You want to consider the approximate annual cost to maintain the pet. Consider things like vaccinations, food, toys, seasonal flea/tick/heartworm prevention, a contingency fund for emergency medical care or upkeep of insurance, and boarding if the caregiver goes on vacation. You then multiply this amount by the number of years left in your animal’s typical lifespan.
When going through the estate planning process it’s also important to consider the effect that leaving a significant gift to your pet(s) will have on your other beneficiaries. Are you creating a risk that your pet(s) will inherit more than your children? Regardless, it’s important to review your wishes with your beneficiaries if you are leaving a gift to your pet to discourage them from contesting your Will after you’ve died. Challenging a Will is time consuming, costly and virtually always creates bad feelings amongst your loved ones.
The goal of investing the time and money into proper estate planning (for both your human beneficiaries and ‘fur babies’) is to put your mind at ease that all of your loved ones’ creature comforts will be taken care of in the best way possible after you’re gone. As the old adage goes, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’
If you have any questions about estate planning for your pets you can call us at (902) 826-3070 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting with one of our lawyers at our Tantallon law firm. You can also schedule a no commitment Issue Review Consult for $100+HST where you have the opportunity to explain your situation to a lawyer and get basic advice before deciding whether or not you'd like to retain us.
By: Dianna M. Rievaj, MBA, LLB - Founding Lawyer
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