Your first will? Don’t forget your pets

January 13, 2020

You’re moving in together and it’s exciting! When you’re buying your first condo, you may decide to prepare a will. How about a clause to protect your animals?

It’s probably not at the top of your to-do list, but creating a will is a necessary step to protect the people—and pets—you love.

Judging from a survey about estate planning, conducted on behalf of BMO, 75% of pet parents feel that it is important to make arrangements for the ongoing care of their pet following their deaths. However, it also shows that only one third of pet owners have made such a provision, whether formal or informal. The report notes that our pets are increasingly considered members of the family so their needs should also be considered in the event of death or incapacity.

Without a plan for their care, parent-less pets are vulnerable to unhappy consequences. “If the family members can’t, or don’t want to take responsibility for the pet, it will be transferred to the SPCA,” explains Dr Sietske Rijnen from Creekside Animal Clinic in Vernon, British Columbia

The SPCA will assess a pet to see if it is adoptable. Pets face stress from losing their human companion as well as from possibly being placed in a kennel environment, a new home with new people or other animals. “Unfortunately, if your pet is elderly or has a medical condition, it may be deemed unadoptable and end up being humanely euthanized,” she adds.

Documenting your plan
Pet owners may have verbal agreements regarding custody, but potential legal issues can be avoided by putting them in writing. “It is rare for owners to have a documented plan in place regarding custody and/or designation of funds from the estate towards the pet,” says the veterinarian.

Sandra MacGregor is the exception. The divorced pet parent of 3 cats in Guelph, Ontario, travels internationally for work. She started to wonder about the fate of her felines should she no longer be around to care for them. “They mean the world to me,” MacGregor says. “The question of what would happen to them in the event of my death weighed heavily.”

She sought advice from a lawyer to revise her will and to designate funds from her estate for the continued care of her pets by a close friend. “It made me feel more at ease knowing they would be looked after,” MacGregor adds.

Evaluating options
Getting legal advice is key in any estate planning. “I make a point during a client consultation to ask if they have a pet. If so, we discuss options to help make informed decisions,” says Ted Flett, an estates, employment and civil litigation lawyer based in Toronto.

While it’s important to designate adoptive pet parents for re-homing a pet, Flett also recommends establishing a trust to help defray the costs of care, if possible. “The courts have recognized that ‘the love that humans can develop for their pets is no trivial matter,’” he explains. “Formal arrangements can be made in one’s will to give individuals peace of mind that their beloved pets will be cared for following their death.”


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