When Fido Becomes Part of the Family

March 9, 2015 Hull & Hull LLP Estate Planning, Pets 0 Comments

Often the purpose of creating an estate plan is to ensure that your family is provided for in the event of your incapacity or death. But, what happens if you consider Fido part of your ‘family’?

Historically, pets have been largely absent from estate planning discussions; however, their inclusion is becoming increasingly common as of late.

Indeed, stories of the rich and famous gifting (or indicating their intention to gift) outrageous sums of money towards the care and maintenance of their pets, have caught headlines and hoisted the notion of estate planning for the family pet into the spotlight.

An article published by CoveredMag titled “Millionaires Who Left Their Fortunes to Animals” highlights a few examples of such estate planning, including:

• Maria Assunta, who left $13 million to a stray cat;
• Leona Helmsley, who left $12 million to her dog, Trouble;
• Alexander McQueen, who left £50,000 to his bulldogs; and
• Oprah Winfrey, who reportedly plans to leave $30 million to her dogs.

Josh Eisen also recently posted a blog titled “A New Breed of Estate Planning” in which he detailed the story of a 3 year old Maltese, Bella Mia, whose owner recently modified her estate plan to make Bella Mia the beneficiary of a significant trust.

While the above examples outline seemingly outrageous bequests, the reality is that without proper planning your pet could wind up homeless or in an animal shelter upon your death or incapacity. While you might assume that a friend or family member will step up to care for your pet, there is no certainty that without proper notice or support someone will be both willing and financially able to take him/her on. It is, therefore, wise for those of us who think of our pets as family members, to incorporate them into our estate plans, to ensure they will be cared for long after we become unable or incapable of doing so.

So, how do you make provision for your beloved pet?

In Canada, pets are considered property. As such, you can’t gift money or property directly to your pet. There are, however, other ways of making provision for your pet. For instance, you can:

Incorporate a direction in your Power of Attorney: which will permit your attorney to make payments to the caregiver of your pet and to pay for extraordinary veterinary expenses if/as they come due.

Include a gift in your Will to the caregiver who takes custody of your pet: you can include wording expressing your intention and wish that that a gift to your pet’s caregiver be used for the benefit of your pet. While such clauses have no true legal force, simply due to their insertion in a Will, they often carry great weight and act as a formal direction to executors of a Will and future caregivers.

Create a ‘pet trust’: you can set up a formal trust to reflect your choice of caregiver and to make specific arrangements about the type of care you want your pets to receive and how the money you use to fund the trust will be managed and used over its lifetime.

Thank you for reading,

Ian Hull

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