Leaving your pet an inheritance
How can you look after your pets when you die? How can they be considered in your estate planning? This article clarifies some commonly held beliefs.
We often hear stories in magazines about super rich people leaving ridiculous sums of money in their Will to their pets. For example, real estate tycoon Maria Assunta left $13 million to a stray cat she found in the streets of Rome. Not even kidding (see cat in the 1%).
Eccentric as it may sound, it is impossible to leave any amount of money to a pet. Animals do not have the same legal standing as humans and are considered to be property. As such, Winnie the Poodle (also not kidding – 101 funny dog names) cannot directly inherit money or other property.
As pets are an important part of many people’s lives, there are a number of options available to safeguard their care after the owner’s demise.
You could leave a sum of money to a friend or relative with a request that they use the money for the care of your chosen pet. Unfortunately, such a request is not legally binding and there is no way to guarantee the money will be used according to your wishes.
Some animal charities, such as the RSPCA and Animal Welfare League, offer legacy programs. Through these you can bequest money to a charity and they will either look after your pet for the rest of its natural life or find a new owner and help fund the care of the animal. The Animal Welfare League site contains some sample wording to include in your will to make such a bequest possible.
Another option is to set up a testamentary trust for your pet. Any such trust would require a reliable and trustworthy human to act as beneficiary on behalf of the pet.
It may be tempting to leave all, or a large part, of your estate to your pet. The biggest obstacle for the fulfillment of your wishes after death is the possibility of a family provision claim. These force the executor of your estate to make distributions to a range of persons whom the court deems have an entitlement.
These force you to provide for a range of people in your will. This covers children, current and potentially former spouses and others who have been dependent on you at some stage during your life. Each jurisdiction in Australia takes a slightly different approach to eligibility for family provision.
Unfortunately, even though a dog may be a man’s best friend and can even be considered part of the family, no legislation in Australia currently considers a pet eligible for family provision.
As Australian succession law can be quite complex, always seek professional advice to make sure your wishes will be met. Our Enrizen Lawyers are happy to provide you with specific advice related to your situation and bequests for Santa Paws, Chew Barker or Sherlock Bones.