How do you plan for your animal’s well-being if it survives you?

It’s something that happens to all of us. One day we will die. And for some of us, that might mean leaving a furry or scaly loved one behind.

But dying when you have a pet that survives you can be a complex affair.

According to Law Society of New South Wales, 63% of Australian households have a pet. And there are over 38 million pets across Australia.

UNSW Law and Justice Teacher Plum Vines said pets could be “very tricky legally” when considering best practices in a will.

Pets are “property”

The fundamental problem, Prof Vines said, is that pets are treated as property and not as legal persons in inheritance law. This means that while people may consider their pets family rather than property, the law doesn’t really make that distinction.

A pet is not a legal person. Therefore, people can’t leave ownership to their pet – you can’t leave ownership to another piece of property. A pet cannot manage the property either.

“In other words, we’re not going to see a dog sitting on a golden throne watching over an estate,” Prof Vines said.

“So people are trying to get around that or navigate around that as best they can. They will write in their will that someone will inherit a financial benefit in exchange for keeping the animal. But even that has problems.

Why are pets complex?

Some of these issues boil down to a basic random factor – the trust that exists between the person who writes the will and the person who will care for that animal in exchange for a financial benefit.

“The law cannot capture all potential outcomes or foresee all potential eventualities. Even if the pet owner requests in a will that someone care for their pet with no time limit, the keeper could technically care for the pet for a few days and then have it put down,” said Professor Vines.

“Essentially, if you’re relying on another person to look after the animal, it’s very difficult to enforce that after you die.”

Unfortunately, this can create scenarios where people might say in their will that they want their pet euthanized when they die. And according to Professor Vines, who studies wills, it happens.

What are the best things you can do?

Although the law cannot take into account all eventualities and take into consideration the random human factor, Professor Vines said there were certain things people could do to give their furry, fluffy or scaly friend the best luck in the afterlife of their owner.

A simple measure could be to leave the animal with a charity to care for the animal, while donating to that organization to help pay for caring for the animal.

“I’ve seen wills where someone may have left a donation, for example, to the RSPCA and they also left their pet to be cared for by that organisation. They are reputable organizations with a good track record in animal care.”

Professor Vines said it might be a good option for those with pets.

“You can contact the organization and leave them a gift in your will and register your pet under the inheritance program. And while most don’t require a donation, that’s a good thing to consider,’ Prof Vines said.

“And if you decide to leave a pet in the care of a friend in your will, make sure they are trustworthy. A lot depends on them,” she said.

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