Can I Include My Pet in My Will?

by | Jul 6, 2020 | Wills & Estates

It is reported that there are over 29 million pets in Australia making it one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world.  For many of us, our pets are thought as part of our families but, have you considered what will happen if your pet outlives you? 

In Australia, as crass as it may sound, a pet is classed as property and therefore you can make provisions in your Will as to how your pet is to be cared for upon your death.  Through discussions with you, our lawyers can explain the different options available to you and your pet.

Pet Care Plan

Any pet owner should have a care plan in place that details all information needed for the care of your pet.  It should include dietary needs, medical history, favourite toy, temperament issues, etc.  By providing this information, your loved ones will be able to use the information to be identify who would be suited to adopt your pet. 

In Your Will

If you do not make specific provision for your pet in your Will, it will form part of your estate and your residuary beneficiary will inherit your pet.  If you die without a Will, your pet will likely be inherited by your next of kin.  In your Will there are several ways to ease your mind as to what will happen to your pet upon your death:

Gift

The easiest way to provide for your pet in your Will is to gift him or her to a trusted friend, family member or even to a charity.  If providing to a charity, you may wish to consider providing terms in your Will requesting that your pet is to be cared for in a particular way or be re-homed.  These requests however are not binding and are more of a guidance.

Gift With Money

Similar to the above premise, should you gift your pet to a loved one, you may want to consider providing money for the care of your pet.  In your Will you may include a non-binding request as to how the funds are to be used however, you may wish to consider gifting the funds conditional upon the funds being used in accordance with your direction.  It will then be the task of your executor to ensure the funds are used in accordance with your direction. 

Testamentary Trust

The most secure way of providing for your pet in your Will is through the establishment of a testamentary trust in regard to his or her care and maintenance.  Some notable celebrities who have created trusts for the care of their pets are Oprah Winfrey, who has left $30million for the care of her dogs and Michael Jackson, who left $1million for his chimp, Bubbles. 

A trust must comply with certain legal requirements but our lawyers will be able to guide you through this process.  When considering setting up a trust, you will need to think about:

  • Providing a sufficient amount of funds in the trust for the continued care and maintenance for your pet.  To determine a suitable amount of funds, you will need to consider life expectancy, annual expenditure, etc;
  • Provide instructions of what should be done with any unused funds once your pet passes away;
  • Having a conversation with the person you will be appointing to care for your pet (the Trustee) and making sure they consent to this responsibility.  Should your Trustee not agree to carry out this duty, the trust cannot be enforced;
  • Should this person not be able to care for your pet, who you would like to appoint as their replacement; and
  • Provide your Pet Care Plan to your appointed Trustee.

When you are looking to make or update your Will, if you have a pet, you make need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your pet’s life expectancy?
  • What is the cost associated with looking after your pet and what are the likely costs to be in the future?
  • Is your pet a breed that is prone to certain illnesses or diseases which might be costly to treat in the future?
  • Who is the best person or family to care for your pet?
  • Do they have enough time, patience and love to care for your pet?
  • Will you adopt or acquire any other pets in the future that will need to be cared for?

Please contact us on 03 9614 7111 or at melbourne@nevettford.com.au should you wish to discuss the preparation of, or updating of your Will.