Don’t Forget Pets When Doing Estate Planning

Pets provide unconditional love and loyalty to their owners. While owners typically return those feelings, many unfortunately forget to make arrangements for their animal companions while putting together wills and performing other estate planning tasks. Without specific instructions, your pet could end up in a shelter or worse after you become incapacitated or pass away. To prevent that from happening, here's what you can do to provide for your pet if it outlives you.

Choose a Permanent Caregiver

The first and most obvious thing to do is choose someone to take care of your pet. Preferably, you want to get someone who is stable, loves your pet, and is willing and able to take care of the animal. Be certain to talk to the person about your wishes to ensure you're both on the same page. It's also a good idea to name a second person just in case something happens to your first choice.

Another option is to have your pet sent to an organization that specializes in long-term animal care. Called pet retirement homes or pet sanctuaries, these organizations typically operate on donations and specialize in caring for a particular type of animal (e.g. dogs only or cats only). While these organizations can provide a certain amount of peace of mind, you may still want to assign someone you trust to act as your pet's guardian who will look in on the animal and make sure his or her needs are being met.

Set Aside Money for Care

While you may think of your animal companion as family, your pet is considered property under Canadian law. As such, you cannot leave money to your pet like you would a human relative. Instead, you'll have to leave the money for your pet's care to the person who will be taking care of the animal.

The simplest way to do this is to make the appropriate notation in your will (e.g. "Give person  X $2,000"). The administrator of the estate will then cut the person a check for the amount specified and send the individual on his or her way with your animal companion.

Though you can stipulate the money is only to be used to care for your pet, there is nothing legally binding the person to follow that direction. This is why you want to assign your pet to someone you trust. The person could spend the money purchasing a luxury handbag and there would be no legal recourse for recovering the cash.

Another option is to create a trust for your pet. Unfortunately, Canada doesn't have laws that let you create a pet trust like those available in the United States. However, you can set up what's called a purpose trust. This is a trust fund dedicated to serving a specific purpose: to provide money for your pet's care.

A purpose trust only goes into effect when you pass away, and it would generally remain in existence until your animal companion dies or the money runs out. Using the trust, you can have a certain amount of money disbursed at regular intervals to the beneficiary you name.

Besides being able to provide for your pet throughout his or her remaining years, a purpose trust ensures the money is used as it's supposed to be. If the beneficiary misuses the money, the person can be sued and forced to reimburse the trust.

Setting up a trust can be tricky, so you should work with an attorney like Binsky Whittle Lawyers to ensure it's done right. For more ideas on ways to make sure your pet is cared for after you pass away, contact an attorney in your area.