My husband and I were recently updating our wills. It’s one of those real-world adult jobs that you love to push to the backburner. It wasn’t that we found the process of contemplating our demise morbid, but rather we struggled with answering all the questions of who gets what and how it will be distributed (not that there is heaps to go around). Anyway, after several deep and meaningful conversations we felt we finally cracked all the questions, had our affairs in order and booked in a meeting with our solicitor.
Assets? Tick. Insurances? Tick. Guardianship for minor children? Tick. Provisions for your pets? Uhhhhh.
We had agonised over the “Who gets the kids?” question but overlooked the “Who gets the dog?” question. I consider myself to be a loving and conscientious pet owner but it had never occurred to me to consider estate planning for my pets.
To my surprise, there is an entire system dedicated to looking after your furry (or scaly, feathery or whatever) friends after you are gone. There is even a fancy legal name of it- a “Pet Trust”. A pet trust allows you to provide for your pet after you are gone.
Image courtesy of Ken_Mayer via flickr
Some examples of how a pet trust can work include allocating financial support from your estate to meet your pet’s needs as well as specifying how you want the pet to be looked after (i.e. maintain your pet’s standard of living).
Some people may remember when Leona Helmsley, an American businesswoman dubbed the “Queen of Mean”, passed away she cut her family out of her will and left $12 million dollars to her pet Maltese. This story made headlines around the world and provided volumes of commentary on the perceived excess of a dog receiving such a huge amount of money.
While I am no Leona Helmsley, I do want my pets taken care of when I am gone. And in the terrible event that my husband is no longer here to look after our family, I want to ensure that the children don’t have to be separated from their beloved pet. So, much to my own amazement, we have just completed an estate planning process for our pet.
If you are thinking about planning for your pet after you pass, there are a few options to consider.
Who do you want to look after your pet? Do you want there to be conditions or expectations on this person?
Will you be providing any financial support for the care of your pet after you are gone? How would you like this to be handled- a one off “inheritance”, or through a trust with an external trustee?
Ensure you have all documentation about your pet, including vet records and contact details, with your other important papers.
Communicate your wishes. Include your plans in your estate planning but also be sure to talk with your family and friends about your wishes.
Speak with your lawyer or estate planner about your pets needs and how to best plan for them in the future.