The Status of the Law Relating to Pet Beneficiaries
In Ontario, pets can enjoy the comforts of life once reserved for human beings. Today, pet owners can accompany their four-legged friends to dog or cat cafés. The organic food shift, initiated by humans, has also found a market among cats and dogs. While the personification of pets may be something to joke about, the over-seven-billion-dollar industry has made new inroads into the legal world.
Considering pets in estate planning is becoming more prevalent among pet owners. However, ensuring that the government does not come between your money and your companion is more complex than simply naming your pet as a beneficiary in your will. In Ontario, pets are considered property; an asset like any other. Because, in law, one cannot convey property to another item of property, a provision in your will which names your pet as a beneficiary does not work, and pets cannot be the direct, written beneficiary of a trust.
For the time being, there are a number of alternatives which Ontario per lovers can take advantage of when planning their estates.
Pet owners can write provisions into their wills which bequest money, conditioned on a human beneficiary providing for the pet. A human is technically the beneficiary according to the will, rather than the pet. Pet owners can also include specific instructions in the will for this purpose. For instance, if you wish to have your dog taken to a veterinarian once every two months for a check up, you can include such instructions in the will. There are practical limits to these gifts, whether outright or as a trust. Be sure to discuss with your lawyer the options and limits, but, most importantly, pick well in deciding your “human” who will care for and/or provide for your beloved pet.
In addition to contemplating pets in wills and trusts, pet owners might consider including instructions in their powers of attorney. This is important in the case that an owner is not deceased, but is incapable of making financial decisions on his or her own behalf.
Pet stewardship is another great option for pet owners to consider; especially if they believe an organization such as the Humane Society is best fit to find the beloved pet a new home. This process involves bequeathing your pet to the Humane Society which, upon the owner’s death, takes custody of the pet until a permanent caregiver is found. The Humane Society can arrange monitoring visits with the new permanent caregiver to ensure that the pet is treated with the care it deserves. Some of the Humane Societies which offer this program are the Ottawa Humane Society and the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society, among others.
There is a broader acceptance of animals as direct beneficiaries of wills and trusts in other jurisdictions, but, in Ontario there are less direct but still a number of different routes you can take to ensure that your furry companion is looked after.