How do I Put a Pet in My Will?

I love my dogs and I’m sure anyone who loves animals would say their pets are part of the family. So, of course you want to make sure your pet would be taken care of if something happened to you.

Can you give property or money directly to your pet in your Will? No, you can’t – a pet is considered property under the law, not a sentient being. Legally speaking, it would be like giving money to a chair – a cute, furry, adorable, chair, but it just doesn’t make sense. So how do you provide for your pet under your Will?

Since a pet is property you can name the person you would want to give your pet to if you died, just like you can give away any other piece of property. You could also make a cash gift to that person under the Will to help that person care for the pet. This generally works as long as you trust the person and the person doesn’t die before the pet, but you have no control over how the money is used.

A more complex option would be to create a trust for your pet. The trustee would be bound to use the funds as specified (i.e., to care for your pet). This type of trust is called a “non-charitable purpose trust” and is much less common than trusts to benefit specific people or organizations.

If you are thinking about adding a trust for pets in your Will, be aware that these trusts can generally only last for 21 years. Some pets (for example, horses, turtles, and parrots) have the potential to live much longer than 21 years so the trust may not achieve your objective over the long-term. Also, if the trustee doesn’t honour the arrangement and misuses the trust funds, the trustee may not face any repercussions as there is no beneficiary to enforce the trust.

We have helped clients with making cash gifts and making pet trusts. Under either scenario, you should think about how much money will be required to care for your pet over its lifetime. Presumably as your pet ages, less money would be required under your Will; for that reason, we have also created Wills where the gift of money intended to help care for the pet is determined by a formula that reduces the amount the older the pet is.

There are many options to make sure that if the worst happens to you your pets will still live their best life.