“And to my loyal dog Oakley, I leave…”
While I have been a practicing lawyer in Medicine Hat since 1994, I have [thankfully] not seen a bequest in a Will made directly to the family pet. Pet legacies are rare in general – but I think it they will be on the rise.
I say this for a few reasons. I see more individuals and families getting pets during Covid 19 – Oakley is our beloved 1 year old doodle pup. Some speciality breeds (really any with the name doodle in them) are more expensive and there can be more “pride of ownership”. Some couples decide to have “fur babies” instead of children. As well, people are living longer, and pets fill the companionship void of losing a spouse or other family members.
While Wills may include guardianship clauses for younger children, pets are generally treated as property, no different than your car or jewellery. Of course Oakley is not an inanimate object. He requires physical care and has ongoing costs for the vet, food and chew toys – lots and lots of chew toys. Living in a rural community like Medicine Hat, pets can be of the larger sized variety and include animals like horses.
A pet legacy in a Will has several component parts:
Normally an amount of money is provided for the ongoing care of the pet. In my experience it has been a set dollar amount, rather than a percentage of the estate. The sum could be $5,000.00 – but this amount is purely as an illustration and should not be seen as the “going rate”.
The individual (or couple) would be specifically named in the Will. Undoubtedly the will maker has asked the person if they would be prepared to act prior to naming them in their Will. It is also a good idea to give the executor the power to choose another caregiver should the person(s) named in the Will be unwilling or unable to accept the role.
The gift amount would be paid to the caregiver, provided they confirm to the executor that they were prepared to accept ownership of the pet. There are 2 reasons for this. First the money cannot go to the pet directly. Oakley is horrible with money! He would spend it all on Kong toys if he had his way. Second, lawyers want to avoid the risk that the caregiver receives the $5,000.00 legacy one day and drops your pet off to the SPCA or sells them on Kijiji the next.
What happens to the money if the pet passes away before the money is all spent. It could be directed to the caregiver as a thank-you for caring for your pet. Another option would be for the unused portion to return to your estate and be distributed to your beneficiaries.
What if you do not have a pet legacy in your Will?
Your executor will have to find someone to care for your pet, or possibly give your pet away. When your will does not include provision for pet expenses, the executor may need to negotiate with the beneficaries on an amount to be paid by the estate for the pet expenses. This might be challenging depending on the estate and the beneficiaries. Your executor will be very thankful for giving them direct instructions in your Will for them to follow.
While Pritchard & Co. Law Firm has some standard wording when it comes to pet legacies, there is still an element of bespoke work, based on what is important to the will maker.
When you should consider a pet legacy?
I think there are certain situations where a person should consider whether a pet legacy would be an important consideration in their Will.
1) do you anticipate owning a pet at your later stages in life? A will might say the pet legacy applies if you own Oakley or another pet at the time of your death.
2) Do you have a small family, family members who are allergic to pets, do not like pets (like snakes), or geographically distanced
family which would make it difficult for your children to take your pet
3) Do you have a large pet, like a horse, that would be difficult for family to care for.
If these circumstances apply to you, I recommend you talk to your lawyer about a pet legacy when you in the process of drafting or updating your estate plan.
Les Scholly is a partner with Pritchard & Company LLP and a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), and can be contacted by telephone at (403) 527-4411 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.