If you are a pet owner, you probably think of your furry companion as part of your family. You love them, care for them, and provide for their needs. But have you ever wondered what would happen to your pet if you passed away before them? Who would take care of your pet and make sure they are happy and healthy? How can you ensure that they will be in good hands after you are gone?
In Alberta, pets are property in the eyes of the law. Here’s why that matters.
Although we may think of our pets as family members, the law in Alberta, like most other provinces in Canada, considers pets as property. For this reason, you would typically “gift” your pet to a specific person (also known as a beneficiary) named in your Will.
Here’s what a basic pet clause may look like in your Will:
“Upon receiving written confirmation from this beneficiary, I give my pet [cat/dog/horse/other] to [beneficiary’s full name]. If [beneficiary’s full name] predeceases me, or if [beneficiary’s full name] is unwilling or unable to care for my pet, then I designate [alternative beneficiary’s full name] as the alternative beneficiary for my pet.”
We usually recommend naming an alternate beneficiary as a back up in case the first person you named is unwilling or unable to care for your pet.
Leaving money for the care and support of your pet
The law is clear that, in general, you cannot give money directly to your pet. There are several ways to draft a clause in a Will to ensure your pet is financially supported. You may have read about something called a “pet trust.” While this is possible in theory, due to its complexity, we do not recommend this approach. Instead, we recommend gifting your pet to one person, along with the amount of money you anticipate would cover your pet’s future care. We typically advise people to provide specific details on how they wish their pet is to be cared for, and how funds should be managed. For example, a clause may say something along the lines of:
“I direct my Personal Representative [aka ‘Executor’] to disperse ten thousand ($10,000) dollars, along with my beloved dog, Scruffy, to my friend, John Doe, to care and nurture my dog for the rest of its life, and to seek out any medical treatment necessary to keep my dog in good health.”
Keep in mind that once your pet is gifted to the beneficiary, they become the owner of the pet and funds associated, which gives them the right to do what they wish with either. For this reason, it is important you name someone not only who you trust, but someone willing and able to care for your pet.
Another equally important aspect of pets in Wills is the type of pet involved. For example, giving your family horse to someone is quite different than your cat. A horse requires substantial financial support for grooming, boarding, and feeding. Take items like these into consideration before naming someone to become the caregiver of your pet or animal.
How to choose the right person to care for your pet
Choosing the right person is important. You want someone who will love and care for your pet as much as you do, and who has the ability and willingness to do so. Here are some steps to follow before naming a pet-caregiver:
- Talk to them. Before you write your Will, choose someone you trust to take care of your pets and ask if they’re interested. Explain why you chose them and what it entails. Make sure they understand the commitment and responsibility involved, and that they agree to accept it.
- Consider their lifestyle. Think about how compatible their lifestyle is with your pet’s needs. Do they have enough time, space, and resources to provide for your pet? Do they have other pets or children that could get along with yours? Do they share your views on pet care, such as veterinary visits, grooming, training, etc.?
- Give them information. Provide them with as much information as possible about your pet’s personality, habits, preferences, medical history, and special needs. You can also create a pet care manual or a letter of instruction that outlines how you want your pet to be cared for. This can include details such as food brands, feeding schedules, exercise routines, medications, toys, etc.
- Keep in touch. Maintain regular contact with your chosen pet caregiver and update them on any changes in your pet’s condition or needs. You can also introduce them to your pet if they don’t already know each other well and let them spend some time together. This will help them bond and ease the transition if something happens to you.
What if I don’t have a plan for my pet?
Without a pet clause, you have no control over who will care for your pet if you were to pass away. Best case scenario, a friend or family member may adopt your pet. If no one is able or willing to take on the responsibility, your pet may be surrendered to an animal shelter. The best first step to planning for your pet is to talk to the people in your life who you think you might be good candidates. But remember, your pet forms part of your estate. Unless you named a specific person for their care through your Will, it is up to the Personal Representative(s) [AKA executor(s)] of your estate to decide what to do with your pet.
Plan for your pet today
If you want to include your pet in your Will, talk to a Wills & Estates lawyer who can help you draft a pet clause. Most importantly, you should choose someone who will love and care for your pet as much as you do.
Already have a Will through Litco Law and want to add your pet? All our Wills are timeless, so you can make changes at any time for free. Just contact us today and let us know that you’d like to include your pet in your Will.