Did you know that in Australia an estimated 63% of households have a pet. Whether this be a dog, cat, horse, fish, hermit crab or rabbit many families want to ensure that their pets are cared for in the event they were to pass away suddenly. However, the question that often arises is what is the best way to do this?

The first thing to consider is that you need some form of estate planning documents to be drafted so that your wishes (in relation to your pets) can be followed. Without a will you will be unable to have any say on a decision you may have wished to be followed when you have passed. That is why it is extremely important to make sure that as a minimum you have a will in place.

What you must remember is that under New South Wales Law, pets are seen as a form of personal property. This means that they are dealt with like other assets you may own. Therefore, there are 3 main options that you have available to you to provide for a pet when you pass away. These are:

  • A donation or legacy to a pet friendly charity of your choice (such as the RSPCA).
  • A gift/legacy to a family member or friend to look after your pet when you pass.
  • Setting up a trust for the maintenance and care of your pet.
Donation to Charity

Many animal friendly charities such as the RSPCA have special programs designed for the re-homing of a pet for someone who has passed. The purpose of the programs at these charities is to ensure that your pet is taken care for in a similar way that you would have if you were around. The specifics of these facilities can include as little or as much as you would like in relation to pet play time, company of other animals and exercise.

If you are interested in this option it would be worthwhile to have a chat with the necessary charity about their legacy programs and including a relevant clause in your will. If you are interested in researching a type of program like this for yourself Google “Pet Legacy Programs”.

Gift to a Family Member

You can include a clause in your will to state that a family member or friend is to care for your pet. The usual practice is to leave the relevant person a monetary gift to care for your pet for the duration of its life. The problem with this is that there is no way to enforce or police whether the person you are nominating will use those funds for the care of your pet. Due to this, we do not normally recommend that you go down this path unless you trust the person you are giving this gift.

A Trust for Pets

It is possible to set up what is called a non-charitable trust for your pet. As with all trust though you will need to appoint a trustee. The trustee will be the person who will ensure that your pet is cared for as the beneficiary as per the terms of the trust. However, this is where it is possible to encounter problems as a pet does not have the ability to take action if the trustee fails to do their job. As such, you need to be sure that the person you appoint as trustee is someone that you can trust.

All in all, much like every pet can be different the circumstances of looking after it when you pass can be different. To be able to ensure that your pet is properly cared for it is best to get tailored advice in relation to your situation. If you need some advice feel free to come and visit one of our estate lawyers at either our Penrith, Parramatta, Sydney or Richmond Office.


Written by Cameron Spanner.

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