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Pets are a valued part of many people’s lives, and we often worry about what will happen to them after we die.
If you have ever wondered how to make sure your cherished companion is cared for after you pass away, you are not alone. This is an issue in family law as well when couples have to figure out what will happen to a pet when a relationship ends. As the law currently stands, the question is not what is best for your dog or cat, but rather the pet’s ownership, and what (if anything) your will says about where they will go.
In Alberta, pets cannot own property, and in fact, are considered to be property themselves. This means any provision in a will leaving money to a pet has no legal force in Alberta. You may have heard stories of celebrities who leave millions to their animals, but as the law currently stands in Alberta, it is not possible to leave any money to a pet in your will.
So, what can you do to take care of your beloved companion? Because pets are considered property, one of the most common solutions is to leave your pets to someone you trust in your will. You can also direct your executor to find a suitable home for your pet, and make recommendations for who to ask. You may also wish to leave a bequest to the person you expect to care for your pet. This would be an absolute gift to the person who agrees to care for your pet. Keep in mind that this means you will have no control over how that money is spent, once it is gifted to the pet caregiver.
You can also set up a “pet trust” which sets aside an amount to be drawn on for the care of your pet. As noted above, the pet itself cannot be a beneficiary of the trust, so you will need to choose a person who will be the manager of those funds and the ultimate beneficiary. Remember that it will be important to set aside enough money to care for your pet(s) for their anticipated lifetime and that the administration of a pet trust, like any trust, will have expenses associated with it, including a yearly tax return. The more detailed and specific the trust terms, the more complicated it will be to administer.
When you name specific pets and specific people to care for them, keep in mind that when you pass away, your pet may have predeceased you, and the individuals you contemplated caring for them may no longer be able to do so. Drafting language in your will to cover any pets you may have when you die, and backup plans for who is providing their care, is a good idea. Finally, keep an eye on changes in the law! Research indicates that most people who have a pet consider that animal to be a member of the family. Certain countries in the world already allow animals to hold property and let people leave assets to their pets in their wills. This is not yet the case in Canada, but if the law changes, you may want to revisit your estate planning to provide for Fido after you die.
This post is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this post to be outdated.