What's the plan for your Pets, if you're no longer here?
One of the more endearing traits of humanity is our ability to love who we love and our powerful drive to provide for those that we do.
While love knows no gender, it's also a fact our affections regularly cross the species barrier with Australians having one of the largest Pet ownership rates in the world, with three in five Australian households - or 5.9 million - having a Pet.
- Today 61% of Australian households have a Pet
- Dogs are the most popular Pet, with 37% of households owning a dog
- Cats are the second most popular Pet, with 31% of households owning a cat
- Leave no Pet behind
- Wants, Needs & Fashion statements
- Drama: Pets and Inheritance
- Top 5 Pets who were left money in a Will
- Drama closer to Home: Oscar the Aussie Social Media Celebrity, dog
- Empathy, compassion and a beloved Pet
- Frequently Asked Questions about Pets and Wills
- Can a Pet be a nominated beneficiary of a Life Insurance policy (just asking for a friend)?
- Can I give away my Pet in my Will?
- How do you provide for your Pets care, just in case something happens to you?
- What happens if I don't mention my Pets in my Will or my Letter-of-Wishes?
- How can I provide money to look after my Pet?
- How much money should I give to the specific beneficiary?
- A cautionary word about Pet Charities
- What to put in your Letter-of-Wishes about instructions for your Pets needs
- Don't forget your Pets in your estate plans - make a plan, write it down, just in case.
- Three quick things you can do today to feel better about your tomorrow
- How to do this?
- Specific gifts and property left in Will can create future unintended consequences
- Myth Busting: How a Will is the wrong way to punish someone later
I grew up with animals; cats, birds (and the occasional rodent that didn’t get on well with the cat). They were an important part of my life and today my nephew and niece's development too.
As I write this, our office cat, Miss Pretty is napping on top of the warm office printer (waiting to swat the next printed document that interrupts her beauty sleep).
Leave no Pet behind
Sadly, many in our LGBTQIA+ Community understand what it's like to feel left out and unwanted.
Whether because difference and diversity bring greater honesty and authenticity, perhaps not fitting in with traditional gender roles or even sometimes having been abandoned by biological families - regardless, many in our community possess a deep capacity for empathy and acceptance - and for many of us we get to choose our own fabulous families.
Perhaps that's why many pet rescue shelters report LGBTQIA+ folk make the best pet owners.
Wants, Needs & Fashion statements
It seems not only do we know how to pamper a pooch and attended to their fashion needs when out and about - a walk around our annual Mardi Gras Fair Day celebrations will show that - our Pets are often part of our family of choice.
- For many of us, we can love our Pets (or ‘fur children’ if you please) just as much as, or sometimes more than many of our other bipedal relations.
- For many of us who have the privilege to adopt Pets and bring companion animals into our lives, their cost of care is part of how we budget our time, life and money.
It stands to reason when we are thinking about getting the important parts of our life sorted, providing for family and Pets, will naturally come to mind.
Drama: Pets and Inheritance
Nothing makes for headline stealing drama more than hearing yet another of the world’s mega-rich have chosen to bequeath more of their inheritance to their loyal Pets, than to their often spoiled kids.
Top 5 Pets who were left money in a Will
Initially, a ploy (I'm sure) to deliberately upset the beneficiaries to their estate, today's mega-celebrities, those approaching Richie Rich status, seem to enjoy the scandal of leaving vast amounts of money in their Will to their favourite Pet.
- Pet owner: Michael Jackson. Bequest - $2 million to Bubbles the Chimpanzee.
- Pet owner: Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. of Star Trek fame. Bequest - $4 million in trust for her dogs, plus an additional $1 million for a domestic employee to care for them.
- Pet owner: Gail Posner. Bequest - $11 million: bestowed $3 million in trust funds and her $8 million mansion to her three dogs.
- Pet owner: Leona Helmsley. This US hotel queen mogul left ‘Trouble’ her dog $12 million, more than she did two for her grandchildren whom she deliberately left out of her will entirely. Drama!
- Pet owner: Ben Rea. This quiet British antique dealer would have died in relative obscurity in 1988 had he not endowed almost his entire estate of $13 million pounds to Blackie the Cat.
Drama closer to Home: Oscar the Aussie Social Media Celebrity, dog
Love, Relatives & Pets @itsoscardownunder
The story of Oscar-the-Instagram-famous-Cavoodle (apparently better referred to as ‘ … a social media celebrity…’) and his humans who ended up in the Supreme Court arguing ownership of the dog, make for a great local story about what happens with pet ownership is contested.
Regardless of this Mexican Telenovela grade storyline, two people so loved a dog they felt compelled to go to the NSW Supreme Court to settle an expensive argument about Oscars ownership, and his devoted social media following.
Empathy, compassion and a beloved Pet
Regardless of whether you’re a ‘dog’ or ‘cat’ person (or anything else in between), us humans are known to develop strong bonds with animals.
Apart from waking us up at 3am for a bathroom break, or a quick random run at light speed around the house for no apparent reason at all, our Pets offer their owners companionship, comfort, therapy or rehabilitation, and improve the quality of our lives.
So it makes sense our plans for our future should naturally provide for them too.
Frequently Asked Questions about Pets and Wills
Can a Pet be a nominated beneficiary of a Life Insurance policy (just asking for a friend)?
No. As pets are considered property under Australian law, they are unable to inherit assets from a Life Insurance policy, Super fund nomination or a Will.
Can I give away my Pet in my Will?
Yes. But this can create future unintended problems for a Will. The better way to provide for the needs of your Pets may be in a separate document addressed to your Will’s Executor, called a Letter-Of-Wishes.
How do you provide for your Pets care, just in case something happens to you?
While we can't nominate our Pets as beneficiaries to our Life Insurance or Superannuation or in our Wills, we can make our personal wishes are clearly known in a Letter-of-Wishes, that accompanies our Will.
Chances are we will outlive our Pets; so a better option is to make our wishes known for their care and provision in a Letter-Of-Wishes that's kept in secure storage along with the original signed copy of your Will and Power of Attorney documents. That way your Executor has clear instructions about your Pet Care wishes.
What happens if I don't mention my Pets in my Will or my Letter-of-Wishes?
If you do not make provision for your Pet in your Will, the nominated Residuary Beneficiaries inherit your Pets.
How can I provide money to look after my Pet?
You cannot leave money directly to your Pet (remember they are considered property under Australian Law) – but you can nominate a specific beneficiary to look after them and leave a gift to that person to cover the associated care expenses.
How much money should I give to the specific beneficiary?
Unsure of how much is required to set aside for your Pet? Then speak with your Vet.
A family member or friend might be happy with little or no money – or a few thousand dollars – but the reality is an Animal Charity is not always so forgiving and may see the bequeathing of a Pet, unsupported by a sizable financial gift, as a significant legal and financial liability to avoid.
Over the average lifespan of a dog, Pet owners spend more than $25,000 per animal - RSPCA
A cautionary word about Pet Charities
If the charity cannot make money or break even, then they do not take on the care of your animal. If you are leaving your Pet to a charity ensure there are sufficient financial assets to last your Pet’s lifetime.
Care costs include;
- food and special dietary needs
- special veterinary care if your Pet develops an illness or age-related disorder
- grooming, toys, outings and other items you want for your Pet
Do you need to get your Will and Power of Attorney documents sorted?
We’d love to help you with that too. Our older brother brand, Sapience Financial has a complete Modern Estate Planning Service that also includes specific provisions for our four-legged friends and fur babies.
You can contact the Sapience Financial team here.
What to put in your Letter-of-Wishes about instructions for your Pets needs
Here you can clearly identify your Pets and list every relevant detail; such as any medical conditions, common medications or special foods or additional needs.
Of course, looking after a Pet appropriately costs money so you may wish to make a financial provision in your Will to allocate an amount of money to your beneficiary who inherits and cares for your Pet.
Don't forget your Pets in your estate plans - make a plan, write it down, just in case.
A death is a very distressing and confusing time for our loved ones. Sometimes the effect of the loss on our Pets is overlooked and forgotten about by grieving family members. Our Pets may inadvertently not get the level of care and attention their owner would have wished for them.
Three quick things you can do today to feel better about your tomorrow
Simple ways you can feel better about the future is by doing three small (and incredibly powerful) things today.
Looking after your family:
- Update your Life insurance policy's Beneficiary Nomination. This way you can make sure who you want to receive a future life insurance payout is clearly identified.
- Update your Super funds Beneficiary Nomination. It seems just about everyone today has superannuation, and while you might not have much in it now, over the course of your life you may amass a small fortune, so make a decision today to update your super funds beneficiary nomination too.
Looking after your Pets:
- Add your Pet's details to your Letter-Of-Wishes, which can be stored with Will (or download our Pet Care Profile below). If you don't have a Will yet we'd love to help you out with that too.
How to do this?
- Ask your Superannuation fund for a Beneficiary Nomination form to print, sign and return (or just download one for their website.)
- Ask your Life Insurance Adviser to check your current Life Insurance Beneficiaries' details are still current. If you don't have a financial advisor looking after your life insurances *gasp* we’d love to help you out with that.
- Download and complete your Pet Care Profile.
Pro Tip: For many of our clients living alone in an apartment, they have their Pets Care Profile completed and attached to the back of the entry door, in an envelope addressed ‘Emergency Pet Care Instructions Inside’
Specific gifts and property left in Will can create future unintended consequences
The hard news is your Pets will probably pass away before you do. The good news is you can provide clear instructions for their care in a separate Letter-of-Wishes document to your Will's Executor.
Pro Tip: When creating an estate plan, adding overly specific gifts in Wills can create an unintended future problem.
They add complexity and can create footholds for challenges and future litigation.
It is generally better to;
- make your wishes for your Pets clear in a separate Letter-of-Wishes document for your Wills Executor, and
- let your Nominated Beneficiaries follow these clear instructions (and if needed receive an allocation of funds to help fund the care - often direct from a life insurance policy - to do that effectively too).
Myth Busting: How a Will is the wrong way to punish someone later
The Myth: One of the urban legends we sometimes hear is the misguided belief, ‘if you have a family member you want to disinherit in your Will, just leave them 'one dollar' to show you haven't forgotten them and have made provision that reflects their level of importance to you’.
Myth Busted: Bad idea. This can create a future unintended problem by elevating a person into your Will as a Beneficiary. This can empower them with all the powers of a Will Beneficiary, and allow them to boss around your Will’s Executor. Bad idea I say!
Keep Wills as straightforward as you need to.
Many people overlook their Pets when making their backup plans and making a Will – but it’s important to make plans for their well-being and ensure they are properly cared for if they outlive you.
When it comes to making backup plans for ourselves and our families (logical or biological) - don't forget to include plans to care for those who love you unconditionally - your ‘fur children’.
Miss Pretty, the Unusual Risks Insured office cat, approves of this blog article.