Estate planning and pets: make sure your fur babies aren’t left high and dry

Estate planning and pets: make sure your fur babies aren’t left high and dry

Published on 25th May, 2022 at 02:43 pm

Loving an animal is one of the greatest consolations life offers us. Yet, a scroll through Facebook will reveal that pet owners don’t always return the favour. When things go haywire, and owners are hospitalised or pass away, pets are often left homeless and helpless. Here’s how to prevent this from happening to yours.

Dogs and cats are considered your property by the law, and you are expected to treat your pets accordingly when you draw up your will, says local animal welfare group TEARS. “In most cases when adopting pets, pet owners accept that its likely they’ll outlive their four-legged best friends, as pets generally have a shorter lifespan than humans. But the reality is that many pets end up outliving their owners,” says the charity. “Many beloved pets end up being surrendered to a shelter or euthanised by well-meaning friends or family who aren’t able to offer that animal a home or a secure future.”

Unfortunately, with 70% of South Africa’s working population without a will, pets are often left to a caretaker or intestate heir who sends them to a shelter, says Moremadi Mabule, head of wills operations at Sanlam.

Avoid this common mistake if you’re a pet owner with a will

Most wills stipulate that all assets should be left to a surviving spouse and that when the spouse dies, everything should go to children or other family members. But this is where problems arise for pets, if the heirs are not able to take care of the animal. This leaves pets with no protection under the law, says financial planner Nicki Blignaut.

“This can be quite an unfortunate situation for the pets. The executor of your estate has absolutely no control or responsibility over the pets once the pets have been delivered to your heirs,” Mabule says.

Think you’re too young to be considering estate planning? Read this to find out why you’re (almost) never too young to write your will.

The testamentary trust route

Mabule says pets can be included in wills, but because they can’t receive benefits directly, you need to appoint a caregiver or trustee for your pet. You can leave money for the benefit of your pet by setting up a testamentary trust and appointing a trustee who manages the funds and works with the caregiver for the pet’s welfare and sustenance.

“Think of how the pet will be clearly identified, and make sure you tell them where the pet’s vaccination card is and who their veterinarian is, too,” Mabule says. If your pet has any unique care requirements, such as health needs or unusual behaviours, these should be noted on record so that trustees know how to handle caregiver requests.

A simpler alternative is to provide a cash bequest or lump sum to the caregiver, which recognises that pets can be expensive to maintain, suggests Blignaut.

Pet Care is one of several benefits Reality Access for Fedhealth members get to enjoy and help save big when it matters most. Learn more here.

Choosing a caregiver for your pet

Blignaut says you should talk to a potential caregiver first before nominating them in your will. “You should choose wisely – just as for the guardian of your kids. Make sure you have discussed it with the person who will be responsible before you include them. Let them be upfront and honest so that if they can’t take on the responsibility, you can find someone else,” she says.

Some questions to consider when choosing a caregiver:

  • Is the pet familiar with the caregiver?
  • Is the caregiver in a position to take in a pet? What are their personal circumstances?
  • Does the caregiver have a suitable garden, and are pets allowed if they live in a complex?
  • Does the caregiver have pets that can live harmoniously with your pet?
  • Will your pet be compatible with their family, for example, if they have small children or allergies?
  • Is the caregiver planning to relocate in the future?

Mabule suggests that you also nominate an alternative caregiver for your pet in case your first-choice nominee is unable to take on the responsibility.

If you don’t have a caregiver who is known to you, you could also talk to your local animal shelter to see if they will care for your pet in exchange for a bequest in your will.

As a Reality Access for Fedhealth member, you get accident cover for your pets of up to R5 000 a year (with an excess of R500 per accident claim). You will be reimbursed up to 100% if your cat or dog is accidentally injured. You also have access to a 50% discount on pet insurance premiums for the first three months of cover. Find out more here.

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