In Australia pets cannot own property, because pets are themselves regarded as property.
This means that – unlike children – there are no automatic laws relating to the care and custody of our beloved pets if we die or become incapacitated.
Whilst the rules around child custody are clear, it’s not the same for pets. Pets aren’t mentioned in any succession or family legislation at all and it is left to the Courts to decide who gets the family pet.
When we die, we will leave behind us a lot of things that someone else will have to sort-out.
The administration of our deceased estate will include providing for our loved-ones, and dealing with our assets and debts.
A carefully drawn Will as part of an integrated estate plan will greatly simplify the process.
If we thought about it, most of us would also want to make some sort of arrangement for the care and accommodation of our family pets. Yet for some reason most people never turn their attention to this issue.
Maybe it’s just too sad to think of parting from our beloved furry companion, or perhaps it’s just too hard to know what to do.
Some people try to do the right thing by their pets, but are ineffective in how they do it.
They might just get promises from family or friends that their animals will be given homes if they die. But those promises are not binding contractual agreements.
Circumstances and intentions may change. The cost of properly caring for a pet needs to be taken into account. It is a sad reality that animal shelters are overflowing with discarded pets.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just leaving money in our Will in our pet’s name, but there are ways to provide financially for our pet’s care.
In many jurisdictions around the world, including Australia, pets are not allowed to be named as beneficiaries in Wills because only people and organisations can be named.
However we can leave money for a pet through a trust. We can specify who will look after the pet, who will make the decisions about the pet’s care and how much money is spent on the pet’s maintenance and healthcare.
We should estimate the maximum amount of food, grooming and veterinary care our pet may require per year, then cost that on today’s prices, and multiply that by the animal’s remaining life expectancy.
Ideally the custodians of the animal should also be paid for their trouble as well, so they do not resent the animal and are encouraged (and rewarded) to continue to care for it.
It is essential to share our plans in advance with those directly affected, and to appoint more than one (alternate or substitute) custodians.
Talk to potential caregivers, and leave enough funds in the Will to help ensure a safe future for them.
When adding a pet to your Will, make sure you see a specialist estate planning lawyer for information that will be specific to your situation.
Growing numbers of pet owners in Australia are including their pets in their Wills through trusts or other means, and these caring pet owners are leaving money for their pets in pet trusts with provisions for how it is to be spent on the pet.
As our population ages and fewer couples have children, there has been an attitude shift where many people have come to view their animals less as pets and more as members of the family.
A pet trust is a fund left for an animal’s care when its owner dies. A guardian of the owner’s choice can access the fund, and pet owners can also assign trustees to hold the money and monitor the guardian’s spending.
Most pet-owners will leave about $1,000 for veterinary bills and food per year per pet, but it varies according to the pet’s age, health and specific requirements.
A guardian is usually a family member or friend but should always be someone who can be trusted to have the best interest of the pet at heart. Pet-owners should choose as guardians people who have integrity and are animal lovers. A pet trust can attach a list of clear instructions to guide the pet guardian.
For many people, their pets are part of the family. Any money remaining when the pet dies is usually given to the guardian, an animal charity organisation or a family member.
Pet trusts are an important and growing area of the law. The worldwide increase in recognition of animal rights and welfare is an indication that the use of pet trusts will continue to grow.
Expert Advice for Pet Trusts, Estate Planning and Wills in South Australia
If you wish to look after your pet after you’re dead, then a pet trust is the way to do this.
For the right advice and guidance in Estate Planning and Wills throughout South Australia, come to Genders & Partners, the oldest law firm in South Australia.
We have been helping South Australians protect themselves, their families and their assets since 1848.
Because pets usually have shorter life spans than their human caregivers, you may have planned for your animal friend’s passing.
But what if you are the one who becomes ill or incapacitated or who dies first?
As a responsible pet owner, you provide your pet with food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and love.
To ensure that your beloved pet will continue to receive this care should something unexpected happen to you, it’s critical to plan ahead.
Genders and Partners is the oldest law firm in South Australia, established 1848. Contact us to learn how to protect yourself, your family and your assets through modern integrated estate planning solutions, by visiting our website today and schedule a free no obligation telephone consultation to find out how they can help you and yours.
Remember – any mistakes you make in your estate planning documents won’t become apparent until after it’s too late for you to fix them. Get proper advice, and do it right.
It is also vitally important that you keep your estate plan up to date – it is not a set-and-forget exercise.
To learn how to protect yourself, your family and your assets, by creating a professionally-made estate plan, claim your FREE 15 minute Telephone Consultation
SPECIAL REPORT “Pet Trusts”
Who will take care of your pets when you are unable to?
Check out the full report from senior Australian lawyer Rod Genders.
Valuable insights to prepare for the future and help protect yourself, your family and your assets.