Why pets should be in your will

June 11, 2012 | Last updated on June 11, 2012
3 min read

Pet owners—whether they’re dog or cat people—have one thing in common: they absolutely love their furry friends, and often hold cherished memories of events like the first day they brought Fluffy home.

And the last thing they want is for their beloved pals to end up stranded. So, two questions: first, do your clients have wills? (Last month, a CIBC poll found 31% of Canadians over the age of 45 hadn’t even started one).

Second, have they added their pets?

In an April BMO poll, the bank found the majority of pet owners (75%) say it’s crucial to make provisions for ongoing care. Otherwise, your family or friends will have to scramble to find them suitable homes.

Oprah Winfrey has left $30 million to her dogs. And while your clients may not be rich and famous, urge them to consider whom they might trust to care for their pets, and how much money will be required to cover vet bills, food and other supplies.

The survey found as seniors live longer lives, pet ownership is rising. Currently, almost half (49%) of Canadians own animals, but only one third have made official estate-planning provisions.

“As our society continues to evolve, the scope of our estate plans needs to widen,” says Tina Di Vito, head, BMO Retirement Institute. “New factors such as the role of digital assets and the significant role pets play in our lives means Canadians must now take into account a number of new elements.”

Read: Estate planning enters 21st century

She suggests leaving a reasonable monetary legacy in an estate to a chosen caregiver. Including this provision will minimize the risk of pets being abandoned or given to a shelter.

I’m a dog owner myself—the photo for this article is of my Maltese-Shitzu, Chloe—and I find it hard to even choose a boarder when going on trips. Calculating future expenses, factoring in possible diseases and emergencies, and finding the proper guardian is a challenging process, and should be started sooner rather than later.

Also, birds, reptiles and small animals like Chinchillas, which are becoming more common, can sometimes live past 20 years of age.

In the Toronto Star’s coverage of the poll, it mentioned Canadian estate lawyer Barry Seltzer. He co-authored “Fat cats and lucky dogs: how to leave some of your estate to your pet,” and says there are at least five key periods that could endanger pets:

  • If you become incapacitated
  • Immediately after you pass away, as pets could be left home alone for days
  • During the time between death and when the will is read
  • During the time between when the will is read and probated
  • The ongoing period after a will is probated

And while you’re considering amendments to clients’ wills, you may want to look up natural burials; an increasing number of Canadians are now considering the welfare of the planet when making their plans. The new trend is to purchase a plot of land in a field and abstain from buying a casket and tombstone.

The practice is widespread in Europe, with the first site opening in the UK 20 years ago. But, it’s only beginning to catch on in North America. There’s a half-acre site in Meadowvale, a site in B.C. and one at the Cobourg Union Cemetery in Ontario.