The term ‘estate planning’ covers a number of documents and considerations; your Will, your Powers of Attorney, your superannuation and other factors relevant to ensuring those left behind to deal with your estate after your death have everything they need to do so as smoothly as possible.
Where a Will does not provide instructions or wishes relating to the care of a pet, the responsibility of caring for, or re-homing the pet, falls upon the Executor of the deceased’s Will (or, in the absence of a Will, the Administrator of their estate). The absence of a plan, combined with families not knowing what should happen with a pet following the death of the pet’s carer, a significant number of animals find themselves surrendered to shelters or pounds each year.
However, if discussed and dealt with appropriately in your Will, you can ensure that your fur-family are cared for by, or re-homed with, someone you trust.
You may wish to include specific directions in your Will in relation to who should care for your pets after your death. Your Will may refer to specific pets that are currently in your care by naming them, or it may refer to any pet or pets in your care as at the date of your death.
If you share care of your pet or pets with a spouse or de facto partner, then upon the death of the first of you, the survivor ordinarily assumes sole care.
If you have sole care of your pet, then you may elect to appoint a specific person who will take on the care of your pet. This person could be someone who is already familiar with your pet and their needs, has a pre-existing relationship with the pet or has cared for your pet in the past. Common examples of appointed carers include roommates, family members or friends.
When deciding who to appoint as carer for your pet, you should consider the type of care they would receive with this new carer. For example, will this proposed carer offer your pet the level of care and attention they are used to? Does the proposed carer have pets of their own or live somewhere that will allow pets?
It is also worthwhile discussing the possibility of your pet being re-homed directly with your preferred carer, so that, in the event of your death, they are prepared to care for your pet. It can also be helpful to have the following information relating to your pet’s care needs stored at your home in an accessible location or provided directly to the proposed carer:
Alternatively, you may include direction in your Will that your pet is to be cared for and ultimately re-homed by a particular shelter, pound or organisation. Whilst possible, this can be problematic if at the time of your death the chosen organisation is not accepting animals (due to capacity issues), has ceased to exist or is otherwise unable to assist with caring for and re-homing of your pet.
In the event your preferred carer or organisation becomes unable or unwilling to care for or re-home your pet after your death, then you should update your Will accordingly to appoint a new carer.
Finally, if you do not have someone that you wish to appoint as carer for your pet following your passing, or you do not wish for your pet to go directly to a shelter, pound or re-homing organisation, your Will may specify that they are to be cared for by your Executor(s) until such time as a suitable new home can be identified and long-term care established at their discretion.
It is preferable that some reference to your pet and your preferred care arrangements for them be included in your Will, rather than no reference at all.
It is a popular option, however not mandatory, to include a financial gift in a Will to be paid to the appointed carer of your pet on the condition that the funds are used by the carer to cover the costs associated with caring for the pet. Such costs may include food, veterinary costs, bedding, toys and other associated items. These funds may be paid directly to the carer, for them to apply towards your pet’s benefit at their discretion. Alternatively, the funds can be held on trust by your Executor, with the carer then seeking reimbursement from your estate for pet-related expenses incurred in their care.
Generally, and in the absence of a cash gift in your Will, the appointed carer becomes responsible for all costs associated with caring for your pet. For this reason, it is important to discuss the appointment with the proposed carer, to ensure that they would be financially able and willing to care for your pet in the event of your death.
In addition to the appointment of a specific care-giver or organisation, your Will can include your wishes in regards to your pet’s care.
For example, if you have multiple pets you may wish to direct that they are to be re-homed together rather than separated. You may also wish to record your preference for what should happen to your pet following their death. If this list of wishes is lengthy, it may be appropriate to record these instructions in a separate document to be stored securely with your Will, rather than in your Will.
Whilst not legally binding, the list of wishes can be helpful to your pet’s new carer as they may not have a pre-existing understanding of your pet’s care needs.
Bequests are an often over-looked aspect of estate planning, but play an important role in funding the work many charitable animal shelters and pounds do to care for surrendered animals.
So long as adequate provision is made in your Will for those that you have an obligation to provide for, you may wish to leave a bequest to a charity of your choosing. In particular, if you are directing that your pet is to be cared for and re-homed by a certain shelter, pound or organisation, you may wish to include a bequest to them in your Will.