Why pets should be part of your will

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Rufus (the dog) and Simba (the cat) are much loved members of our family, but unlike Oprah Winfrey who has left $30 million in her will for the care of her dogs, it never occurred to me to appoint a guardian or leave money for pet care in the event that our four-footed friends last longer than we do. It appears that I am not alone.

A report from the BMO Retirement Institute says that 75% of pet owners surveyed believe it is important to make provisions for the ongoing care of their pets. However, only one-third have set up any kind of formal or informal arrangement, and only 40% of these people have earmarked funds for their pet’s expenses.

Canadian estate lawyer Barry Seltzer has co-authored the book “Fat cats and lucky dogs – how to leave some of your estate to your pet.”  He says there are at least five key occasions when your pet is in danger:

  • When you are incapacitated and are unable to care for your pet.
  • Immediately after you die and your pets are home alone, perhaps for days.
  • During the time between your death and when the will is read.
  • During the time between when your will is read and when it is probated.
  • The ongoing period after your will is probated.

 

Because under Canadian law, pets are property you can’t actually leave money to Fido. Therefore Seltzer suggests concerned pet owners to do the following:

  • Identify caregivers and several alternates in a will.
  • Figure out how much it will cost to care for the pets.
  • Leave a sum of money to the designated caregiver who accepts the responsibility after your death; or,
  • Instruct the estate trustee to dole out the money yearly based on evidence the pet still survives and the requested cost reimbursement is reasonable.

 

Another option is to contract with someone to provide future pet care if you become disabled or die. However it is unclear whether the contract would be enforceable or who would enforce it. Although there are few Canadian precedents for this type of agreement, Seltzer says American lawyer Rachel Hirschfeld has developed a generic pet protection agreement that might work in this country. It can be customized and then purchased from her website.

If you do not have a friend or family member who agrees to care for your pets upon your death, at least two Canadian humane societies (Ottawa and Windsor) have formal Pet Stewardship Programs.

These programs ensure that upon your death, your companion animals are adopted into loving homes that are best suited to their needs.

The Ottawa program operates as follows:

  •  Owner signs an agreement with the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS)..
  • Owner completes care information on the animal.
  • Bequeaths animal to OHS.
  • Upon death of the owner, OHS takes immediate custody of the animal and places it in foster care, estate transfer funds to OHS.
  • OHS agrees not to euthanize except in cases of disease or severe temperament problems.
  • Permanent caregiver is found.
  • Monitoring visits are arranged.
  • Medical care is arranged for the lifetime of animal.
  • OHS retains the right to remove the animal from the caregiver.

 

However, the program is not cheap. A minimum payment of $10,000.00 must be made for each surviving companion animal left in the Ottawa Humane Society’s care. Funds will be used to pay for medical expenses, pet medical insurance and an annual allowance for appropriate pet supplies. Funds will not be allocated for food (unless medically prescribed diet) bedding, toys, crates or grooming.

Pet owners often assume that if something happens to them their pets will be taken care of by somebody else. But the unfortunate reality is that because frequently no one steps up to the plate, they are sent to a local animal shelter and euthanised.

Even if you are not rich or famous, by planning ahead you can increase the odds that your pets will be properly care for,  even after you have purchased the final bag of  kibble or cleaned the cat litter for the last time.

 

 

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