Planning Perspectives

A look at life and finance from every angle.

From personal to professional, from family to financial, there are many facets to your life. Yet, each is interconnected. Planning Perspectives is a source of ideas and information to help you make the most of them all, all together.


What Happens to Marley When I Die?

April 5, 2019 Estate, Family, Life Events, Living Well, Planning Well

The popularity of animals in movies, television and media is a reflection of our special connection to our pets. Like us, some of these ‘celebrity pets’ have had to overcome adversity. Rin Tin Tin was rescued from the French trenches of World War 1 to become a famous American movie star. He was buried in the oldest pet cemetery in Europe, the Cimetière des Chiens. And let’s not forget classic ‘famous’ pets like Lassie, Old Yeller, Black Beauty and Benji, who was adopted from an animal shelter. More recent famous pets include Tinkerbell Hilton (who lived in her own $325,000 house) and Darwin, better known as the Ikea Monkey.

How can you make sure your pet is cared for if something happens to you? Advance planning certainly helps. Pets are considered to be ‘property’ under most provincial laws. That means that a pet cannot receive a cash legacy (e.g., I leave $15,000 to my cat, Cheshire, for his continuing care and well-being). What the law considers to be ‘property’ cannot own other property.

Planning strategies for pets are available and often include appointing a guardian for your pet in your will. Ideally the guardian would be someone who is familiar with your pet and who has agreed to act as guardian. You want to feel confident that the person will financially, as well as physically, care for your pet. Also consider the practical aspects like whether or not the person has enough living and/or outdoor space to accommodate your pet. Once you decide on your pet guardian, you can leave your pet to that person along with a specific sum of money for its care (i.e., a legacy for the guardian). The legacy should be enough to cover your pet’s care costs over its remaining lifetime. The legacy can be conditional on the person agreeing, in writing, to care for the pet. You can even include a non-binding wish that the guardian care for the pet personally. The executor, once the legacy has been delivered, has no obligation to see to its use. That lack of financial oversight is another reason why you need to choose your pet guardian carefully.

Alternatively, you may provide your executor with discretion to set aside a legacy in an amount they determine is appropriate for the lifetime care of your pet. Your executor pays the sum to the guardian named in the will, as before, but the executor also has the option of finding a replacement guardian if the person is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility at the relevant time.

You may also choose to discuss including provisions in your Continuing/Enduring Power of Attorney for Property about your pet such as appointing a guardian and permitting reimbursement for pet care and related costs.

You may consider settling a non-charitable purpose trust if you have a lot of pets or a particularly valuable one. The trustee may also be the pet guardian and if so, a trust ‘protector’ can be appointed to ensure the trustee-guardian abides by the terms of the trust. A contingent beneficiary can be designated to receive any leftover trust funds. These trusts may be limited to a period of 21 years in some provinces, which may not last the lifetime of, for example, a young horse, parrot or cat.Bear in mind the legal expenses, ongoing administrative costs, trustee fees and tax consequences (e.g., income retained in the trust is taxed at the highest marginal income tax rate) associated with most trusts.

In Quebec, a private trust may be used to benefit a specific pet. The trust operates similar to the non-charitable purpose trust discussed above. The main difference is that private trusts in Quebec are able to exist indefinitely.

Some provincial animal organizations will care for your pet until it is able to find it a new home. Examples are the BCSPCA, the Ottawa Humane Society Pet Stewardship Program and the Manitoba Humane Society’s Animal Stewardship Program. Advance registration for the service is frequently required and there is commonly a fee.

Legal advice should always be obtained prior to implementing any planning strategy in order to determine personal fit and suitability.