I often get asked by clients whether they can leave all or any part of their inheritance to their pet or pets.
Although there are an estimated 24 million plus pets in Australia and, for many Australians, pets are their most treasured asset, you cannot legally leave your estate to your pets in Australia.
By contrast, in other countries around the world, such as in the US and in parts of Europe, you can bequeath your inheritance to your pet or to a trust fund established for your pet. In Italy, in 2011, a 94-year old lady bequeathed her entire $15.6 million estate to her cat. In 2007, American real estate mogul Leona Helmsley left her dog $2 million out of her $12 million estate – more than what she left to two of her grandchildren!
Under Australian law, animals are considered property. If you die with a Will and you do not specify in that Will what is to happen to your pet, such pet will form part of your residuary estate and pass to those beneficiaries. By contrast if you die without a valid Will, your pet will pass to your next of kin on the basis set out in the intestacy laws of that particular jurisdiction.
Which begs the question, how do you provide for your pet under your Will in Australia?
- Gift your pet to a friend or charity; or
- Gift your pet to a friend or charity and provide that friend or charity with a sum of money under your Will in order that they can provide for the care and ongoing maintenance of your pet; or
- Gift your pet to a friend or charity and establish a trust under your Will where your trustee holds funds to be provided to a person or charity for the benefit of your pet, such as to provide for their food, veterinary and ongoing care expenses.