How can I ensure my pets are looked after when I die?

Australians and their pets

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. According to materials released by RSPCA Australia and Animal Medicines Australia there are an estimated 28.7 million pets in Australia, with 62% of Australian households including a furry, scaly or feathered member of the family. Not only do Australians love owning pets, they also don’t mind splurging on their welfare. A 2022 survey conducted by the Petfood Industry detailed over $33.2 billion dollars was spent by Australians in the 2021-2022 financial year on their pet’s food, health, grooming, toys and accessories. Even though you can’t put a price on your love for your fur-baby, pets are expensive, and often pets who aren’t provided for by their deceased parent may find themselves in the pound or potentially even being euthanised. So how can I ensure my pets are looked after when I die?

Your pets and estate planning

When considering your Will, not only do you need to contemplate who your beneficiaries are and how your estate is to be distributed, you also need to consider the likelihood of your pet outliving you and planning for that in your estate plan, after all pets are like small children as they cannot support and care for themselves independently of their humans. However, unlike children, pets obviously don’t have the same status as humans under the law and as such making provision for your pet in your Will requires significant consideration. To make proper provision for them under your Will you will need to consider such things as:

  1. Your pet’s expected lifespan;
  2. Who would you trust to leave your pet to after you pass;
  3. What would be your pets estimated ongoing costs i.e. food, insurance, vet bills, toys, treats.
How can I plan for my pet’s life if I die first?

Seeking legal assistance and advice is your number 1 step. If a provision in your Will is not drafted correctly then it may fail, thereby leaving the continued care of your pet at risk. This unfortunate outcome was detailed recently in the 2022 New South Wales Supreme Court case of Hibbitt v Ziade, in which a deceased’s Will contained the following clause:

“I give the rest and residue of my estate to my trustee…to hold my residence at Tennyson Point together with all personal effects contained therein to Mrs Hibbitt and Mr Hibbitt or the survivor of them in return for caring for my two cats..”

The Estate argued that the gift of the Tennyson Point property to the Hibbitts was conditional on their continuing care of the cats until they both died, at which point the Hibbits would then inherit the property. Unfortunately, the Court rejected this argument and found in favour of the Hibbits, preferring an interpretation of the wording of the above clause which immediately gave the Hibbits the property, thereby removing any real surety that the Hibbits would continue to care for the deceased’s cats.

What are my options for making sure my pet is looked after under my Will?

There are a number of ways you can provide for your pet under your will, such as but no limited to:

  1. Leaving your pet to a friend or relative with an additional gift which you request that they utilise for the care of your pet;
  2. Leaving money to a charity/organisation in exchange for their re-homing of your pet;
  3. Establishing a non-charitable trust under your Will for the care and maintenance of your pet.

There are many considerations in relation to each of the above options. Southern Waters Legal are specialists in the estate planning field and can assist you in exploring your options and will draft your Will so that you can rest easy knowing that your treasured furry, scaly or feathered member of the family is looked after in your absence.