Who takes care of your cockatiels when you die? That’s the dilemma New York business owner Leslie Ann Mandel faced. Mandel fixed her estate problem by leaving a $100,000 trust for her 32 birds, dog Frosty and cat Kiki. Her stepson manages the pet trust, which as of 2015, her sister Avis was fighting in court.
A Modest Place by the Beach
Mandel used her hard-earned wealth to create a fabulous aviary in East Hampton, a popular but pricey beachside retreat in New York State. Her stepson feeds the colourful menagerie a steady diet of bird feed, carrots, water and popcorn, instructions she left in her will. Mandels’ aren’t the richest pets in the world. They received a skimpy $3,000 each.
Diamonds and Dog Collars
By contrast, Gunter IV, a Berlin German Shepard, is worth around $400 million. He has the happy fortune of being the son of Gunter III, left a generous inheritance by his owner, Countess Karlotta Leibenstein, in 1991. The family fortune has been invested and passed down through the decades.
Trouble in Paradise
Poor Trouble Helmsley, Maltese baby of New York Empire State Building owner Leona Helmsley. Death threats and kidnapping attempts aside, he had his inheritance slashed from $12 million to $2 million by a Manhattan court. The sharp-tongued but shrewd Leona earned a spot in Fortune magazine’s 2007 “101 Dumbest Moments in Business” for her bequest.
Are You Leaving Your Pet Too Much Money?
Trouble got in trouble because his owner left him too much money. The court decided $12 million way exceeded his needs. The Queen of Mean’s estate had to surrender $10 million of the bequest to two grandchildren she left out of her will.
Leave All Your Assets to Your Pet
Unlike Leona Helmsley, most people wouldn’t favour their dog (cat, bird or chinchilla) over their grandchildren. But if you don’t have any surviving parents, siblings or children, your pets may be your only family. You can leave your entire estate to a guardian who cares for your pets. On the other hand, you might bequeath some to an animal shelter, local SPCA, a wild bird sanctuary or a food bank that helps pets. Think about it, how much will your pet realistically need after your death?
Your Pet is Your Property in Ontario
Like your fixer upper at the lake, Ontario wills and estates law considers your pet your personal property. Appoint your estate trustee thoughtfully, because unless you specifically provide for pets by making a personal will, their fate will be in your executor’s hands. Writing it down ensures your family, friends or personal representative know your wishes and intentions for Buffy the chinchilla.
You Don’t Want Your Pet to Suffer
Surely, your heirs wouldn’t let your pet suffer? While Buffy may be precious to you, your beneficiaries may not be quite as attached. Without instructions in a will, an estate trustee in Ontario can sell or give away your pet, put them in a shelter or have them put down.
When You Die Without a Will
When you die intestate (without a will), the court appoints an estate executor for you. Usually, a family member steps up. If you are estranged from your family or they are not an animal lover, they may not be the one you want making lasting decisions for your property or pets. Even a handwritten or holographic will can be declared invalid if you failed to follow the Ontario rules for personal wills.
Prevent Your Pet From Being Left Alone
Your first concern is who will immediately care for your pet. Your pet may be left on its own for weeks or months while your will goes through probate. Ensure you leave instructions and expense money with a friend or family member who can provide a temporary home while your will is being probated. If you genuinely have no one to care for your pet after death, ask a local animal shelter or the SPCA if they accept bequests.
Stop Fraud With More Than One Pet Guardian
Why not just appoint that person your pet’s caretaker for life? While it may sound like a good idea, having a sole guardian for your pet can be problematic. If they die before Buffy, they may forget to make a will or include Buffy in it. And without you around, your life savings could be going to a cabana in the Mexican Riviera. Making a final will allows you to appoint a caretaker for your pet and an estate trustee to watch over your pet’s inheritance.
Create a Pet Trust in Ontario
To prevent your furry friend from being left behind permanently, create a pet trust when you write your last will and testament. They’ll thank you for it. Pet trusts in Ontario are legally binding and enforceable. Include specifics about where your pet will live and how much money you have set aside for their care ($800 to $1,000 a year on average, plus vet bills, insurance and medications). State who will take over if your appointee moves, dies, is allergic or decides they have had enough. Finally, specify where the remainder (residue) of your estate will go after Buffy dies. A shelter or pet charity could be a lasting legacy.
Wills and Estates Services for Pet Owners
Get legal advice on leaving your estate to a pet. Axess Law Ontario has wills and estate lawyers to advise you on including your pet in your final will. Dial toll free to 1-877-552-9377 or 647-479-0118 in Toronto or use our online booking form to make video or in person appointments. Video conference throughout Ontario, 7 days a week, day or evening. Meet in person with a licensed lawyer at Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Etobicoke, Vaughan, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s wills and estate services.