What happens if your beloved pet outlives you? Many dogs and cats live as long as 20 years and some birds up to 80.
A 2021 study by Animal Medicines Australia reported there has been a substantial boom in pet ownership, with an estimated 30.4 million pets across the country. The report states that nationally, around 69 per cent of households own a pet. This has been led by a surge in dog ownership—with over a million additional dogs being brought into Australian households since 2019. Alongside this trend, there’s been a growing awareness that our pets could very well outlive us, especially as we get older.
It’s important to let people know about how you want your pet looked after and have the necessary provisions in place. You don’t want your pet to be left with no resources and headed to the nearest animal shelter.
Once a particular Will was provisioned with $100,000 to an animal foundation to care for a much-loved dog whose owner passed away. The provisions included charging the foundation with the responsibility for finding the dog a permanent new home, plus associated costs to cover the rest of the dog’s natural life.
Famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who upon his death amassed $270 million dollar fortune, was also known for dedication to his beloved Birman cat, Choupette. He left $1.5 million dollars to Choupette via his Will. Making the correct provisions in your Will regarding the ownership of your pet is a great way to have peace of mind if the worst were to occur. It also provides comfort to your friends and family knowing your precious family member is exactly where they belong. Without having these provisions, the unfortunate reality for some pets is that they’re either rehomed or passed onto family after you depart.
But what happens when your family or friends don’t have the resources or the support to look after your pet? Or in some cases, your pet is fought over between family and friends or even euthanised due to a lack of animal care and knowledge? Writing a pet clause in your Will ensures your best animal friend is looked after as well as the way you did it.
There are a number of ways to protect your pet in the event you die before them:
Pet Care Plan – Write a detailed list of everything needed to care for your pet. Include registration details, microchip number, veterinary contact details, groomers contact details, dietary restrictions, favourite toys and bedding and even their usual routine. Create an emergency contact list that includes family, friends or neighbours who can quickly reach your pets. Carry a copy on you just in case and inform the executor of your Will.
Will – When making your will it’s just as important to think about your pets – after all, they are dependent on you. Under Australian law your pet is considered property in your estate. If you do not have a valid will when you die your pet will go to your next of kin. The simplest provision for a pet under a will is to gift a pet to a family member or trusted friend.
Pet Trust – Writing up a pet trust allows you to allocate who you’d like to take over guardianship, how your pet is to be cared for, and how their care is to be funded. A trustee will then distribute the funds to your designated guardian to use as per your instructions. It’s a good idea to discuss your wishes with your nominated friend or relative.
Pet Legacy Program – Your pet can be left in the care of a Pet Legacy Program provided by a charitable organisation. Through these organisations, your pet will find a loving home and their ongoing welfare will be monitored by them. You need to register your pet and make a specific monetary bequest in your will for each pet registered, which will go towards their future veterinary care, giving you peace of mind knowing your pets will be cared for should you pass away before they do.
It’s a hard thought to consider – the possibility of leaving our vulnerable pet animals behind but when making your Will, it’s important to consider them in the same way as your human beneficiaries.