Providing for Pets in Your Will

In January 2015, a Maltese terrier by the name of Bella Mia became arguably one of the richest dogs in the world. Bella Mia inherited the equivalent of $1,750,000 from her owner, Rose Ann Bolasny – an accountant in New York. Amazingly, this is neither the first time a pet has become the unsuspecting inheritor of an Estate, nor the richest. A German Shephard called Gunther became the world’s wealthiest dog when his owner Karlotta Liebenstein, a German Countess, left him an astounding $166,000,000.

Rich dogs aside, these examples beg the question – can a pet receive an inheritance under an Australian Will?

Making Provision for Your Pet

While you may not have quite the attachment to your animal as Ms Liebenstein, you may still want to ensure that your pet is being provided for after you pass away. While it isn’t possible to directly write a pet into your Will as a beneficiary, there are alternative methods that achieve very similar results.
There are two real ways that this can be done, and the extent to which you trust the other beneficiaries of your Will may determine which of these you choose.

For the first, you quite simply leave an extra provision (ideally in cash) for one your beneficiaries and request that they care for your pet. Short of hiring a separate person to check up on this beneficiary to make sure that they are living up to their end of the bargain, this method may require a reasonable amount of trust. This being said, it is a low-cost solution where you plan on entrusting a family pet to a family member or close friend.

Setting Up a Trust

The other, safer, alternative is to set up a trust for your pet. Trusts differ from straight inheritance in that they require that certain conditions be met before the funds are distributed. A trust will often require a trustee, a person in charge of distributing the funds and ensuring that the conditions of the trust are met – this person may be the individual caring for your pet, or a totally separate person who is happy to perform this function.

While a trust does not appear much different from a simple cash gift, it creates powerful legal obligations on the trustee. A trustee who fails to ensure that the conditions of the trust are being carried out, or is in any other way acting contrary to the interests of the trust, may be held personally liable in Court. This creates a considerable obligation on the trustee to make sure that he/she does the right thing by you.

Other advantages of a trust include the ability to specify exactly how the money is to be spent on your pet – do you want to allocate a certain amount to food? Do you want to ensure that particular treats are fed to him/her? Do you want them to take weekly trips to a particular beach? Once your pet passes away, you can also stipulate that the remaining funds be distributed to other beneficiaries (such as family or friends), or even to pet shelters or charities.

These conditions may seem silly to some, but given the treasured place a pet has within a family it may offer some peace of mind knowing that their lot in life will not diminish when you pass away.

If you have concerns about someone’s Will it is very important that you seek legal advice as soon as possible after their death. So, to discuss your concerns, whether it be defending a will or disputing an estate claim, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at Hentys Lawyers today.