A financial planner I met recently wanted to make sure that there would be a plan in place for his family if he passed away, so he decided to create a will. He outlined who would receive his assets, who would become guardians for his children, and maybe to the surprise of some - who would take care of his dog. Research by Willful found that most pet owners are not like him - only 6% of pet owners have outlined a guardian for their pet in their will. A large number of pet owners (44%) have never thought about making a plan for their pet in case they pass away and 25% have thought about it, but haven’t actually created an official plan.
When a person passes away, they don’t just leave their family behind - one of the top reasons pets end up in shelters is because their owners pass away, and there’s no one to care for them. October is National Pet Wellness Month, so if you don’t have a plan in place for your furry family member, now is the time to make one. Here are 4 important tips to keep in mind when making a plan for your pet:
If you’ve thought about what would happen to your pet if you were to pass away, but haven’t actually put a plan into writing, take that extra step to make it official. Creating a will that includes a section about your pets is the best way to ensure you have your wishes in writing, and it gives your an executor a plan that’s easy to follow. You may think you’ve planned ahead because you’ve spoken with someone about caring for your pet, but having it in writing adds an extra layer of security and helps prevent your wishes from being misconstrued. Plus, if you’re an adult who has assets, property, children or a spouse, you should have a will anyway - knowing your four-legged friend is accounted for is just a bonus to the peace of mind you’ll gain once you have a plan in place. The easiest way to create a will is to visit an estate lawyer, or use an online will platform.
Your will outlines who would take care of your children or pets if you passed away, and these roles come with major responsibility. While you might think your mom would happily take ownership of your pet and provide high-quality care, you should always discuss it with your preferred guardian first to find out if it’s a role willing and able to take on. This conversation isn’t just about asking them to take care of your pet - you should also talk about the type of care you want them to receive, daily routines, temperament, and any other relevant information that person would need. An easy way to ensure this is taken care of is to write out a pet care plan with details on feeding, care, exercise, and lifestyle, and store it with your will so your executor would easily be able to pass it on to your guardian.
In the same way you leave money to your dependants and beneficiaries in your will, you should leave an amount of money for your guardian to cover the ongoing cost of caring for your pet. This is especially important if your pet has health problems, their breed is prone to issues, or if their ongoing care is expensive (for example if you have horses). By doing so, the guardian won’t have to make tough decisions if faced with expensive treatments or unexpected costs. Consider leaving enough money to cover food and other every day expenses, as well as an amount dedicated to vet bills and medical treatment.
Estate planning isn’t a one-and-done endeavour. Life is constantly changing - we have children, get married or divorced, and get more pets. When changes occur, it’s important to update your will and any associated plans so they’re as up-to-date as possible. An easy way to approach it is to review your will every year to ensure your pets are up to date, your pet guardian is still willing and able to take on the role, and to review other components unrelated to your pet. Keeping your plan current means there won’t be any surprises if the unexpected happens.
A study from the Pawzy team found that 95% of Canadians consider their pets to be part of the family, and 54% of millennials say their pets are loved and treated like a child, which means it’s as important to put a plan in place for them as it is for the rest of your family. Creating a plan helps ensure no pet ends up in a shelter, and it also gives you peace of mind that someone will be there to care and love your pet as much as you do.
Erin Bury is the co-founder & CEO at Willful, a platform that helps Canadians create a legal will online from the comfort of home. She’s also an advisor to Pawzy, and a huge dog fan who plans to get a big labrador retriever as soon as she doesn’t live in a tiny condo.