May 16th 2022
Most pet owners think of pets as part of their family and want to ensure that after they pass, these pets are taken care of. There are several factors that must be considered in estate planning to ensure the best for your pets and their caregivers. This article will give a brief overview of some considerations one should turn their mind to while drafting their Will.
To begin, it is important to draft a Will to ensure the best distribution of pets. In law, pets are seen as chattel, pieces of property with some dollar value attached to them. Without instruction, an executor can do nearly anything with them, like any other piece of property. They cannot simply be disposed of (even if the Will requests this, see Wishart Estate, Re), but there is little recourse if an executor gave the pets to an inadequate guardian. Pets with high monetary value may also create challenges for an executor who is left without instruction. Without a Will, an Arowana may represent the entire inheritance of one beneficiary, as it could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Or, like many unusual items, the executor and beneficiary may both be clueless about the fish’s worth, and unaware that their relative may have intended it to be sold after their passing.
Another important consideration is compensation, to assist with the financial burden caused by food, care, veterinary bills, etc. that the new caregiver will incur. Imagine you were asked to take care of a tortoise. Thomas, a 40-year-old Hermann’s Tortoise, was given to Grace Hilditch as a birthday present in 1922. When Ms. Hilditch passed on in 1978, Thomas was left to her cousin June Le Gallez. Thomas lived until 2013 in Ms. Le Gallez’s care. Without knowing that there would be some compensation and provision for the pet, a lifetime commitment to it may be burdensome. A trust can be created in the Will for the benefit of your pets, which can endure for the pet’s entire lifespan (see Re Dean), releasing money gradually for your pets’ needs.
The last consideration I will raise here relates to any pets that require a particular environment. Koi need a large pond, horses require sufficient land to roam. Here a common solution is to leave the land to the guardian, with the condition that they care for the pets until their natural death. Such a condition must be carefully drafted, or if the pets predecease their owner, the land may still be unintentionally gifted to the intended guardian (see MacAuley Estate, Re).
If you are considering drafting a Will, be sure to reach out to Liddiard Law.