It’s easy to overlook pets when it comes to drafting your will. Even though many Australians have a pet how many of us have thought about what might happen if our furry friends outlive us?
When I help people draft their will, they often tell me they want to make sure their loved ones are well looked after once they’re gone. Partners and children are usually at the top of that list. But, more and more people are asking me for advice on how to write their pets into their wills.
Is it legal to leave an inheritance to your pet?
It’s not possible to leave an inheritance directly to a pet, but you can leave an inheritance for a pet’s benefit.
There are a two main ways that you can do this:
- Leave cash to the person who will care for your pet and hope they do the right thing; or
- Leave cash to a trust fund set up by your will, specifying how the money is to be applied. The person controlling the trust may be your pet’s carer or someone else who manages the money and provides the money to the carer on a needs basis.
There are a number of advantages to using a trust, including:
- You can specify exactly how the money is to be used.
- The money can be applied whether the carer is an individual or a pet sanctuary.
- Once your pet passes away, the remaining money can be distributed to beneficiaries - such as family, friends or a pet shelter, in accordance with your wishes.
What happens if there is a dispute?
Despite your wishes, a will can be challenged. Hence, it's best to formalise these arrangements rather than rely on something more ad-hoc. If you don’t have a formal arrangement in place, there is a risk the carer will spend the money on something other than for the pet’s care and there’s also a risk that a dispute will occur over who is entitled to any surplus once your pet passes away.
Unless you have complete faith in the pet carer's ability to also manage money, it's wise to nominate someone else to manage the money in accordance with your directions.
To minimise disputes it’s important to leave as clear instructions as possible in your will about how you want your pets to be taken care of. It is also recommended that you get independent legal advice when drafting a will.
And one last thing, make sure the person left to care for your pet is willing to take on the responsibility. Ask them when you do your will. I've seen many pets become strays or be put down simply because this very basic step wasn't addressed.
Taking some extra care now could ensure your pet receives the extra care it deserves.