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Who looks after your pet if you can't?
Written by Angela Teng
Many people enjoy the companionship of pets and see them as family members, so how can we protect their futures in our wills?
It was nearing 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon late in the summer when NSW Trustee & Guardian urgently activated a Power of Attorney for Mary*, who is suffering dementia.
Mary has been taken to hospital and was staying in respite care, but was very concerned about her 13-year-old blue heeler dog named Leela, who was at home alone in the backyard.
By appointing NSW Trustee & Guardian as her attorney while she had capacity some years ago, Mary was able to ensure her beloved pet was looked after.
NSW Trustee & Guardian regularly hears of situations where important planning ahead documents such as a will and power of attorney haven’t been made, and the outcome for the pet is not as happy as Leela’s story.
Pets can be left in homes when people die intestate (without a valid Will), or where people have health issues which make it difficult to communicate with others and tell them about the pets they can no longer take care of.
Animals who cannot be provided for when their owners can no longer look after them may find themselves in the local animal shelter or being euthanased.
In recent years, pets are becoming an important part of people’s lives and are sometimes looked after like children in the family. We buy them toys, build them playgrounds, dress them in trendy clothes and buy them gourmet foods. There is even pet tech on the market that can read animal heart rates and assess how they’re feeling.
So it’s not surprising that many people decide to write their pets into their wills to make sure they are looked after, in case they outlive their owners.
However, under NSW law, a pet is still regarded as property belonging to their owner, which means pets cannot hold title to property or inherit money as a beneficiary under a will.
But they can be provided for in a number of ways, such as through a legacy or a trust fund.
Ruth Pollard, Director of Legal and Professional Services at NSW Trustee & Guardian, says there has been a rising trend of pet owners making provision for them in their will and even leaving large inheritances for their pets.
“Pets have really become part of the family, and so people now want to include them in their wills,” Ms Pollard said.
“But you need to make sure that the clauses in your will are worded correctly and that the family, friend or charity you choose to look after your pet can fulfil their duties. An animal cannot apply to a court if their trustee or carer fails to fulfil the obligations imposed by your will.”
A decade ago NSW Trustee & Guardian was only writing a handful of wills that included clauses for pets, but last financial year alone, the agency wrote 611 wills that have made provisions for pets and the amount of money pets stand to inherit has also grown significantly.
If you have a furry, feathered or scaly member of the family you wish to include in your Will, we can help you make the most appropriate provisions for them when you plan ahead with us.
You can order a free pet emergency card from us to carry in your wallet. The card holds information about you, your emergency contacts and your pet. If you can’t return home to care for your pet, this card can alert those around you that your pet needs care.
* Names and identifying details may have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
When a person dies without a valid Will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’. In this situation, the law sets out how the estate is shared among relatives.