The Pet Clause: Making Sure Your Pets are Taken Care of After You’re Gone


As a lifelong animal lover, and a wills and estates lawyer, I’ve often had to deal with the difficult question of what happens to our pets after our deaths. Over my years of legal practice, I’ve had to have the same solemn discussion with my clients who seek ways to provide for their pets once they have passed away.

The future of our pets is a difficult subject to cover, but it is an important niche topic within estate planning for all those who feel, as I do, that pets are family.

British Columbian pet owners are fortunate to have multiple options to ensure their pet goes to a loving new home and is well-cared for following their passing. It is my hope that a review of these choices will be both helpful and interesting for those of you who view your animal companions as family members.

Finding a Caregiver:

Choosing the correct caregiver for a pet is a matter of personality, financial stability, lifestyle, and other factors. The result of this is that not all people have someone they feel comfortable leaving their pet to. For those who find themselves in this position, there are BC not-for-profit organizations which will provide both permanent re-homing and interim foster care, hospital services, and other support for animals who have survived the passing of their owner. If you do not know who to leave your pet to, I would recommend reaching out to one of these organizations to see how they can assist you.

Another way to arrange for the care of your pets following your passing is the inclusion of terms within your estate-planning documents—specifically your Will. Terms included can be quite specific; however, they frequently include appointment of a person, or persons, who will inherit custody of the pet.

At this time, it is wise to remember that any appointment of such a person should always include A) one or more alternates, in case the first person named is unable or unwilling to care for your pet, and/or B) the power for the executor of your estate to appoint someone who will become the caregiver of your pet.

The Cost of Good Care:

It is at this stage we need to consider the cost of keeping your pets well cared for. Some of us have pets with reasonable expenses, while others have pets who seem to consume as much money as they do food. In my experience, owners of horses, Great Danes, English Bulldogs, and parrots (to name a few of the easier examples of high-cost animal companions) may find their furry, feathery, or otherwise-clad, friends are much more warmly welcomed into their new home when accompanied by a ‘pet fund’ to provide for the costs of their care. Failing to provide these funds may result in a person being somewhat resentful of their role as caregiver, or perhaps even result in someone declining to take on the responsibility altogether.

Having decided to leave funds to care for your pet, the next topic of conversation frequently turns to how much, and how to structure the fund. The amount of money to be left is a matter of personal preference, and I won’t enter into the details here; however, this is a good time to recommend will makers keep in mind the delicate balance between planning for the unexpected and the possibility of providing your pet with a lifestyle which is a cause of envy among your survivors.

When setting aside funds within your Will for the care of your pets, the two most common methods of doing so are via the creation of a ‘pet trust’ or an outright gift of the funds to the new caregiver of your pet.

Pet Trusts:

Establishing a pet trust is a relatively common approach to setting aside funds for the care of your pets; however, keep in mind that ‘the law’ does not distinguish between trusts/trustees for pets and those for other purposes. Your trustee will have legal obligations, standards of care, and even yearly tax reporting requirements as a result of this trust being in existence.

The cost and complexity of managing these obligations can be detrimental to the fund itself—a fund of insufficient size to carry various costs, in addition to the care of your pet, may be drained of funds prior to when they are most needed. This may also lead to your pet’s caregiver feeling the effort is not particularly worthwhile for the amount of support the fund is able to provide.

Benefits of a pet trust fund are that the funds are earmarked for the care of the pet and accordingly there are terms as to how they can be used—some will makers may feel this provides an extra degree of certainty as to the proper use of those funds.

Gifting Pet Funds via Your Will:

An alternative approach is to provide for funds to be gifted by the executor of your Will to the new caregiver of the pet. Done properly, this allows for both the executor and caregiver to receive those funds without the complications discussed above regarding a pet trust. A downside, of course, is that you will be relying upon the trustworthiness, financial prudence, and general sense of moral responsibility of the person to whom you have entrusted your pet.


As you can see, there are multiple options for people who seek the comfort of knowing there is a plan in place for the care of their pets following their own passing; however, not all options are appropriate for all circumstances. A discussion with your estate planning professional will allow you to create a plan which is the right approach for you and your pets.

If you’d like to learn more about providing for your pet after you’re gone, or want to learn more about general wills and estates planning, please reach out to Mark Brade at [email protected] or by phone at 250-869-1156.

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