'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.' (Mahatma Gandhi)
For many of us our pets are a central part of our lives, our much loved 'fur babies', our companions, exercise partners, even therapists through the hard times.
But what will happen to them after we die? Or if we lose the ability to make the decisions necessary for their welfare? Unless you make specific provision for your beloved pets to address these situations, their fate could be a grim one.
When you die for example, the executor of your estate will have no option but to hand pets over to your heirs as 'property'. And if your heirs are unable or unwilling to give them a good home and have no guidance from you as to what your wishes are, your beloved pets could end up needlessly euthanised or in a shelter.
Let’s look at a few ways you can avoid that.
A 'Living Will for Pets'
In the 'when you are gone' section below we will discuss options that only apply after your death, but in contrast a 'Living Will' applies when you are still alive but no longer able to make your own decisions.
Thus, your own personal 'Living Will' or 'Advance Medical Care Directive' sets out what medical treatment you consent to receiving when you are no longer able to speak for yourself.
Similarly, you may want to do something like that for your pets, setting out what is to happen to them when you are no longer able to make such decisions yourself. You could leave specific care instructions (including perhaps veterinary care instructions and authority for euthanasia in specific circumstances) or you could appoint a trusted heir or animal welfare organisation to make those decisions for you. Note that you cannot leave money or assets to anyone in a living will – bequests can only be made in your actual will.
Three alternatives for when you are gone:
A clause in your will: As 'property', your pets cannot inherit from you, but you could provide in your will ('Last Will and Testament') for a named heir to inherit them, ideally with a bequest to help them cover the costs of pet ownership. Make sure your chosen heir is on board with your plan!
A directive - in your 'important information' file or in a separate letter of wishes: In addition to your will, you should always leave your executor and heirs a comprehensive file of important information and documents to assist them in winding up your estate. It should include a 'My directives' section with instructions as to what is to happen to your pets. Alternatively, you could set that all out in a separate 'letter of wishes'. These directions aren’t legally binding on anyone, but they do provide guidance to those winding up your affairs as to your wishes.
A testamentary trust: This will be overkill for most situations, but if you want to leave a lot of money to care for your pet/s, you might be advised to set up a testamentary (i.e. set up in your will) trust. You would appoint trustees to manage a bequest to the trust, with guidance on how the money is to be spent for your pets’ benefit.