Here at Lynn and Brown, we love our pets. They rely on us to keep them healthy and happy, and they do everything they can to return the favour. But how can we make sure our best friends are cared for after we are gone?
Traditionally, pets have been treated as property under the law, often leaving them vulnerable in the absence of their human caregivers. However, the legal landscape is evolving to acknowledge the unique status of our four-legged companions, recognising their emotional value and the need to ensure their continued care.
Leaving Assets in Your Will
When leaving assets to a loved one in your Will, you create an express trust in which you nominate a trustee to give either a specific amount/asset or the residue of your estate to a specified beneficiary or class of beneficiaries. This satisfies the rule that trusts must have a clearly defined:
- intention to create a trust;
- asset or amount; and
Although some of us may think of our animals as our children, the law does not see it that way and prefers to consider them property. Unfortunately, this means that they are not capable of being a beneficiary of a trust. However, there are other ways for pet owners to safeguard their pets future including:
- giving your pet to a friend or family member;
- Create a “Pet Trust”;
- RSPCA Home Ever After Program; or
- Euthanasia – a difficult option to consider.
- Giving your pet to a friend or family member (Non-Binding Trust)
One simple way to look after your pet following your passing is gifting them to a trusted friend or family member along with a sum of money to provide for their maintenance and care. By creating a non-binding trust for the care of your pet, you can control who your pet goes to, and provide sufficient funds to care for them following your passing. You may also choose to provide a specific amount to the person, conditional upon their caring for your pet, but allowing for them to keep what is left of the funds after your pet passes as a token of gratitude.
As the quasi-beneficiary of the trust, your pet, will not be capable of enforcing the trust. For this reason, if you would like to leave your pet to a friend or family member, please ensure that you have discussed this with the nominated person so you can be sure that they are willing and capable of taking on your pet.
- Create a “Pet Trust”
A “pet trust” allows a pet owner to choose a trusted caretaker for their pet as well as outline the standards of care to be maintained. This option requires more involvement from your estate planning lawyer and is much more detailed that a standard Will as it is creating a Testamentary Trust within your Will which will become legally binding on the person you choose to care for your animal once you have passed away.
Although more expensive, there is also the option to create a Testamentary Trust Will with provisions that provide that the person caring for your pet is only entitled to certain funds provided they fulfil certain obligations to the trustee to show that the funds are being used for the proper care and maintenance of your pet, in line with any instructions you may choose to provide.
Creating a pet trust in your Will involves several key steps for you to consider before proceeding with a pet trust:
- you must appoint a trusted caregiver to care for your pet. This person should be willing, capable, and ideally, have a strong bond with the animal;
- you can establish a dedicated fund within the trust to cover your pet’s expenses, such as food, veterinary care, and grooming; and
- it is important to think about what specific care instructions you want your nominated caregiver to follow such as dietary preferences, exercise routines, and any special needs or medications that your pet may require.
3. RSPCA Home Ever After Program and Animal Welfare League Happy Heart Program
- The RSPCA will provide a free service if you leave a charitable gift to them in your Will which ensures that your pet will be taken into their care and rehomed with a suitable family when the time is right.
- All that is required is that your pet is registered with RSPCA for the program prior to your passing and you provide as much information about them as possible so that the RSPCA can find the best match for their new home.
- As the RSPCA relies on charitable donations, there is no minimum gift amount for your pet to be taken in by the program following your passing. If you would like to enrol your pet in the Home Ever After Program and provide for the RSPCA in your Will, please book an appointment with one of our lawyers so we can discuss this option further with you.
- If you would like further information on the Home Ever After Program, please visit this link.
- Euthanasia – a difficult option to consider
Just as losing a pet is devastating to us, losing their owner is devastating to our furry friends and although many animals are capable of being cared for or rehomed, some with temperament or health issues do not have the same luxury. Euthanasia may be the most humane choice. If you think the best option for your pet is to be put to sleep following your passing, please speak to one of our lawyers about providing for this in your Will.
Please reach out to Lynn and Brown Lawyers to discuss how to safeguard your pets after your passing
Lynn and Brown Lawyers encourage anyone with questions about providing for their pets in their estate planning to get in touch with our Wills and Estates team. You can contact us through our website www.lynnandbrown.com.au or by calling 08 9375 3411.
About the Author: Hannah is a graduate of both the University of Western Australia and Notre Dame University, having completed a Bachelor of Arts (major in ‘Law and Society’’ and minors in History and Psychology) in 2016 and a Bachelor of Laws in 2018.