As anyone with Instagram can tell you, International Dog Day fell last Monday. As you were enjoying the delightful glamour shots of your friends’ furry companions, no doubt your mind turned to estate planning for pets! What can you do to ensure your dog (or cat, budgie, alpaca, etc.) is properly looked after when you’re no longer around?
Can I Make my Pet a Beneficiary to my Will?
You might be surprised to learn that you can’t leave money directly to a pet in Ontario. Though your pet is no doubt treated as a full member of your family, they don’t have the same rights as you. Specifically, animals cannot hold property rights. They can’t own, sell, buy, or otherwise deal with property or assets as a person can. This means that anything you give to an animal, in the eyes of the law, has not been given to anyone and still must be dealt with. This can create problems where a Will does not contain a provision setting out who should inherit when one of the intended recipients cannot do so. It also means that pet-parents need to make arrangements to have someone else hold and distribute any assets intended for their animal friends.
How to Properly Plan for the Ongoing Care of a Pet
The best approach is to create a Pet Trust, which directs a person (or people) with property rights to legally hold property for the benefit of someone or something that can’t. You appoint one or more trustees to take legal title to certain property and provide them with a framework for how you would like it to be used in your animal’s best interests. This way, you can ensure that your four-legged (or winged, webbed, or scaled) friends have someone looking out for them, and give yourself the peace of mind that they will have the financial resources they need. There is no legal limit on the amount that you can leave in a trust for an animal, but it’s best to keep it realistic. (Lest you want to rival Leona Helmsley, and aren’t concerned with the legal wrangling incurred in her case when she left millions to her aptly-named dog, Trouble).
As with all estate planning considerations, the best advice is to speak with a lawyer who can guide you, answer your questions, and help you put together a plan that is doggone perfect for you and your menagerie.
At Mills & Mills LLP, our estate lawyers can assist you in developing a will and an estate plan that considers the above factors, among others, to best suit your needs. If you have any questions about how to ensure the best plan for your pet, please reach out to us online or by telephone at (416) 863-0125.