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What about your furry friends? Caring for your pet in the event of death or incapacity

By Greg Cox and Krystal Bellamy / 09 March 2021
4 min.
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Worthwhile read for: Individuals, Married Couples, De Facto Couples, Parents, Guardians, Families, Pet Owners

Our Family and Relationship Law team recently issued an alert about pet 'custody' following a relationship breakdown. For many of us, pets are loyal companions and much-loved members of the family. We spend a great deal of time and money ensuring that they are healthy and happy. Despite this, it is often the case that no mention is made of a pet’s future care in their owner’s Will or Enduring Power of Attorney. Many people simply assume that they will outlive their pets – but did you know some parrots can live to be over 100 years old!

Have you considered what would happen to your beloved pet if you suddenly died or lost capacity?

The law unfortunately regards pets as property, like a person’s car or furniture, and therefore, in the absence of specific provision for a pet’s welfare, there may be limited protection available for them if their owner can suddenly no longer care for them.

In some cases, relatives or friends will step in to care for a pet in these circumstances. In other cases, pets sadly end up in an animal refuge, or being prematurely euthanised if no new home can be found for them. For pet owners, this can be a daunting realisation and an unhappy outcome for all concerned.

To avoid this, it is essential to plan for your pet’s future care and to help ensure that your estate planning documents specifically address the topic.

It is not possible to leave money directly to your pet in your Will, however, some options you may wish to consider include:

  • Gifting your pet (and your pet’s accessories) to a trusted relative or friend (with a back-up recipient nominated just in case). You may also wish to gift a sum of money to the same recipient, which is made conditional upon their acceptance of your pet, the intention being that the gift will compensate the recipient for the costs of caring for your pet.
  • Setting up a special trust for the care and maintenance of your pet. While this is possible, it is generally not a preferred option because, depending on the individual circumstances, there can be issues with the ongoing administration and enforcement of this type of trust.
  • Gifting your pet to an animal shelter or charity for re-homing (with or without a separate cash bequest).
  • Registering your pet with a dedicated pet legacy or pet bequest program, which will ensure your pet is cared for and re-homed in the aftermath of your death or incapacity. For example, Animal Welfare League Qld (AWLQ) has a free “Legacy Pet Program” which offers emergency foster care and re-homing of your pet, as well as free annual routine veterinary care for the rest of your pet’s life. AWLQ also offers a Seniors’ Pet Support Program called “Golden Hearts” for pet-owners aged 65 and over. Similarly, RSPCA Queensland has a free “Home Ever After” program. Further information regarding these programs can be found online.
  • Leaving a comprehensive pet profile or memorandum of wishes outlining your pet’s particular needs (such as diet, medication and exercise) as well as other details such as their usual vet, microchip number and insurance policy.

Your Enduring Power of Attorney should similarly express your wishes for your pet if you are no longer able to care for them, and specifically authorise your financial attorney to use your resources to put those wishes into effect.

Whatever you decide, planning ahead and discussing your intentions with the relevant people including your appointed attorneys and executors, family members, friends and/or selected charities is key to ensuring that your pet is dealt with in accordance with your wishes and that stress is minimised for those charged with the task of looking after their immediate welfare.

If you would like advice regarding providing for your pets in the event of your death or incapacity, please contact our experienced Estates and Succession team.
 

Authors
Greg Cox
Special Counsel
Greg leads HopgoodGanim’s Estates and Succession team and offers more than 30 years’ experience in estate planning, administration and litigation.
Krystal Bellamy
Senior Associate
Krystal is a Senior Associate in our Estates and Succession team.

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