elderly man looking at his dog during a walk by the ocean considering plan for my pet outliving me

How do I plan for my pet outliving me?

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Thoughts on a plan for a pet outliving me. I discovered Pet Stewardship and other measures we can take to ensure the animals we love are taken care of when we no longer can.

A good friend of mine passed away suddenly last year. He lived alone and had two dogs that were the focus of his love and attention. After the initial shock of his loss had set in, I started to ask around about what was going to happen to his dogs. The two were a bonded pair and I knew that he would not want to see them split up. When I asked around, the most frequent answer I received was “oh, I’m sure that someone will step up.”

I’ve never been content with assuming someone else will step up. What would the world be like if we all counted on someone else to step up? What is going to happen to Rosie and Roxie if no one steps up? Fortunately someone did step up. They often do. But there is no guarantee and do you really want to leave your animal’s fate up to chance? It is great that we have faith in humanity, but is that the best thing to do when it comes to the stewardship of your beloved pet in the event you predecease them?

Ask Yourself

Is it fair to expect your loved ones to have to make complex decisions such as the future of your left-behind pet while they are actively grieving and amidst everything else that will be going on in the immediate aftermath of your passing? Current statistics show that over half of Canadian adults die each year without a will in place. Of those who have wills, a large number die without a properly updated will. An even more alarming statistic is that only 7% of Canadians adults have adequately prepared for the care of their pets in the event they predecease their pet. Essentially, 93% of Canadian pet holders are relying on the “someone else will step up” strategy when it comes to the fate of their pet after they die. Full disclosure: I am one of them.

Maybe this is because we are afraid to think of our inevitable deaths in any concrete way, or we have a magical belief that the universe will just take care of things. The facts, however, don’t support this as a viable strategy. Many pets are surrendered after the death of their owners and face the uncertainty of survival in shelters while they wait for someone to adopt them. If that pet is older, the odds that they will be adopted from a shelter are far worse.

There is something you can do

The good news is that this is something we can address while we are still of sound mind and body. The following are intended as suggestions for you to think about and in no way constitute legal advice on our behalf. The only way to ensure that your pet will be cared for beyond your death is to seek the counsel and service of a lawyer. Leona Helmsley, the American Hotel magnate, famously left her dog $12 million in her Will when she passed, however in Canada pets are considered property under the current common law, thus we cannot leave any money directly to them in our Wills.

There are different options available to ensure that your pet is taken care of in your estate plan and such decisions can only be made with the assistance of a lawyer to determine which option is best for your needs, circumstances, and jurisdictional considerations. The following are suggestions for consideration.

I started making a plan for my pet outliving me

When I researched a plan for my pet outliving me, I discovered these options to consider discussing with a lawyer:

A Testamentary gift

While your pet(s) cannot be left money in your Will, your pet(s) can be gifted to someone you designate along with a gift of money to that beneficiary to compensate them for the ongoing care of your pet. It is important that you select someone you feel will be able to handle the care and responsibility of the pet(s) throughout the rest their lifespan. You should have conversations with the candidate you choose and ensure they are ready, willing, and able to take on this responsibility.

As there is no legal imperative for the guardian to use the allocated funds for their intended purpose, it is important that you select people you trust. Appoint a back-up (or two) in the event your first candidate should become unable to fulfill the obligation between the drafting of the will and your death. Ensure that you have conversations with your backup(s) as well and they agree that they are ready, willing, and able to take on this responsibility.

A Pet Trust

A trust can be created in your Will that is designated for your pet. This requires a third party to be appointed trustee, who will be responsible for the ensuring that the money designated goes toward the care of the animal. In the same manner as the testamentary gift recipient, you should have conversations with your trustee and ensure that they are ready, willing, and able to carry out these duties upon your death. You also want to identify an alternate in the event that your designated trustee is unable to take on this responsibility (and have pre-conversations with this individual as well).

Some other things to consider are asking your lawyer if they think that it would be beneficial to appoint a “protector” to oversee the trustee and an understanding of any income tax implications that may apply to the trustee so that you can prepare them properly. A trust may have the advantage that it can apply immediately after your death or be enacted in the event that you do not die but become incapacitated and are unable to care for your pet. This would be an important question to ask your lawyer when you are evaluating the first two options.

Pet stewardship

Pet stewardship is another option for pet owners to consider, especially if they believe an organization such as the Humane Society is best fit to find the beloved pet a new home. This process involves bequeathing your pet to the Humane Society. Upon the owner’s death, they take custody of the pet until a permanent caregiver is found. The Society can arrange monitoring visits with the new permanent caregiver to ensure that the pet is treated with the care it deserves. Only a few Humane Societie offer this program including the Ottawa Humane Society and the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society. It’s best that you contact your local Humane Society to discuss the terms of a program before naming them in your will.

Another option is to find a trusted organization, such as a charitable animal rescue organization – e.g. poodle rescue/golden retriever rescue – that will agree to this). As with the Humane Society, the pet may be gifted to the organization along with any applicable fees (and donation) along with instructions that the pet(s) is to be re-homed and not euthanized. Ensure to keep up to date with the organization (reach out every year) to ensure they are still in operation and able to take the responsibility to care for your pet(s). It is important that you visit the facility if it is a sanctuary to fully understand what kind of environment they will be kept in.

Document it

Regardless which avenue you choose, it is advisable to prepare a separate care document to attach to the Will. This document can include care instructions, veterinary contacts, information on pet insurance policies as well as anything you feel is important to pass on to your designated pet caregiver. Special considerations: If you have more than one pet and it is important that your animals not be separated, ensure that you have covered this in your instructions with the appointed guardian and speak to your lawyer to ensure that this is adequately addressed in your Will.

How much should I plan to leave?

Current annual costs for dog and cat ownership can be estimated at $4,000 per year. Do the math. How much would be required to take care of your pet for the expected duration of their life? Your veterinarian can assist with providing you the life expectancy for your particular pet(s). For instance, if your animal has a life expectancy of 12 years and you are writing the will when it is 4 years of age, you may want to leave $32,000 as the gift or trust. Alternately ask your lawyer if you can just stipulate that the Will allocate a set amount (e.g. $4,000) per year for the expected remainder of your pet(s) lifespan and the executor can calculate the lump sum amount.

Further considerations if you’re thinking about a “plan for a pet outliving me”:

Pet Insurance

It is a good idea to have a pet insurance policy. Speak to your insurance provider regarding instructions related to the transfer of the policy (at the locked-in rates) to the guardian or trustee you appoint in your Will. See our blog post Understanding pet insurance.

Incapacitation / Power of Attorney

If you become unable to adequately take care of your pet through illness or injury, it is important to speak to your lawyer regarding appointing someone to be your power of attorney. This person should have specific instructions regarding your pet(s). As stated above, a pet trust may be applicable in this scenario but only a lawyer can properly advise you.

Immediate care after your death

What about the immediate care of your pet if you die unexpectedly? Even if you have addressed this in your Will it should be noted that some time may elapse between your unexpected death and the estate being opened, probated, and communicated to all parties properly. Your pet will need an immediate caregiver (ideally your designated custodian/trustee) to take over the care of the pet in the time between your death and the instructions of your Will being carried out.

Keep a card in your wallet, or in your emergency information on your smart phone. Include the name and number of someone who can take immediate action. Post the information on the back of your exterior doors. First responders will appreciate knowing if a pet is in the home. This emergency pet contact could be a family member, friend, or even your lawyer. (You would need to have their personal contact info and not rely on their office phone).

Hopefully this will prompt you to start the process. The best time to start is now to have the necessary discussions, and make the necessary decisions. Then make the appointment with your lawyer to complete the documents.

Some things you can do immediately:

  • Identify at least 2 friends/relatives and ask if they will agree to be temporary emergency caregivers. Ensure they have keys and the information they will need (feeding schedule, food type, care instructions, veterinarian contact, policy information for pet insurance). Ensure that they are ready, willing, and able to deal with everything involved. Keep in touch with them to ensure that they are still in a place to take your pet.
  • Let your neighbours, friends and relatives know who your emergency contacts are (or where they can find that information if needed). Ensure they have access to the contact numbers.
  • Carry a wallet “alert card” that lists the name and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregivers.
  • Post “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows specifying that you have animals in the house (including how many and species – dog, cat, rabbit, turtle). If you are concerned with security, use a sticker on the door/window and indicate that further information is available inside the house.
  • Post a removable emergency contact list on the inside of your exterior door with information about pet types and numbers. Also include the emergency contacts designated for pet care.

More posts by this author:

Happy Healthy Cat

Loving an Animal – One Person’s Journey

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