Providing for your pets after you’re gone

By Christina Koshman, TEP, CFP® 29 September 2022 3 min read

Anyone with young children has probably considered what might happen in the event of one or both parents passing away prematurely. There are many questions to think about. Who should take care of the kids? Have the guardians you’ve named accepted the responsibility? Is there enough in your estate to care for them until they’ve launched? 

Ideally, you’ve already thought through these and officially documented your wishes in a will. But have you also thought about what should happen to your pets? Most pet owners consider their animals a treasured member of the family and treat them as such. So they also deserve special consideration in your estate planning. 

Willing money or property to pets has become increasingly common in the last few decades, with some posh pets even making headlines when their famous owners bequeathed millions to them in their estate. Michael Jackson left his chimp, Bubbles, $2 million, while real estate mogul Leona Helmsley left her dog, Trouble, $12 million. Oprah Winfrey has reportedly already set aside a trust fund worth $30 million for the benefit of her dogs upon her death.

As extreme as the above examples are, many want to ensure the future care of their furry friends. The sad truth is that pets without a formal plan can end up in a shelter. Many believe that someone will step up to the plate to look after their pets, but it’s a risky assumption. Even if a relative wants to help, they might not be in a position to do so.  

So how do you ensure your beloved pet is provided for after you’re gone?

In Canada, pets are considered property, so they cannot be named directly as a beneficiary in a will because they do not have the legal capacity to receive gifts made in wills. Having said this, it is still important to have a plan. Planning for your pet does not necessarily mean leaving a chunk of your wealth to provide for their needs. It can be as simple as ensuring they will be properly taken care of in the event that something happens to you or your family.

Here are four important tips to keep in mind when making a plan for your pet:

  1. Talk to your potential pet guardian
    Since this role comes with major responsibility, it would be prudent to discuss things with the person you choose first to find out if it is something they are willing and able to take on. In additon, provide any direction you can relating to your pet’s future care. There is more to this role than just taking care of your pet; the financial burden and time commitment that comes along with it should be discussed and a plan set in place. 

  2. Document your wishes
    Creating a will that includes your pets is the best way to ensure your pet will be cared for. The simplest approach is to make a gift in your will of both your pet and a monetary amount to a trusted individual along with direction on how to care for your pet during its lifetime. However, there are other options that might be better suited to meet your needs, such as a pet trust or pet foster programs. It’s important to have a detailed conversation with your estate planning lawyer about your options.

  3. Allocate resources
    Since you cannot name your pets as beneficiaries, the alternative is to leave money to your pet guardian to cover the cost of caring for your pet, which could provide a financial security blanket for your guardian in the event of unexpected costs. Make sure you’ve accounted for this amount in your overall plan.

  4. Update your documents periodically
    As with many things, a will isn’t a one-and-done task. Life is always changing – you might get married, buy a new home, have children (or grandchildren) or adopt more pets. If a big life change occurs, it is important to update your will accordingly. Checking every so often to make sure your pets are current and your pet guardian is able to take on the role is a good idea.
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