“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1789. The same is still true today. And for horse and pet owners, what happens to our animals once we pass can be a major worry.
Planning your horse, dog, cat (or ferret etc.) in your will can alleviate such stress and is a common and recommended practice. One famous example is Choupette, the beloved Birman cat owned by the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Before his death in 2019, when rumours swirled that he’d leave his entire fortune to the feline, Lagerfeld quipped to the press, “Don’t worry, there is enough for everyone. She has her own little fortune, she is an heiress: If something happens to me, the person who will take care of it will not be in misery. She’s a rich girl!” After the designer passed away, Choupette is said to have inherited approximately $2 million CDN and her care was taken over by Lagerfeld’s caretaker Françoise Caçote.
To find out the ins and outs of remembering your animals in your will, we spoke to Victoria Winter, managing partner at Beard Winter LLP, who has been practicing in the area of estate planning and succession for over 20 years. Winter is also a well-respected figure in the equestrian community as a double Pan American medalist in dressage, past chair of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Council and a member of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Organizing Committee Board of Directors. For several years she was also the chair of the Dressage Committee and is currently the chair of the Dressage High Performance Advisory Group.
Horse Canada: What is the easiest way to ensure your animals are taken care of in your will?
Victoria Winter: If there is someone specific that you would like to become the guardian of your pet(s), this can be set out in the Will. Alternatively, you can direct your executor to find the best possible home. You can also ask the executor to take into consideration any non-legally binding wishes left outside of the Will (which can be updated from time to time without having to update the full Will) when finding the best home. Your Will could also include a dollar amount gift going to the person who agrees to take the pet(s). A wish can be expressed that the person use these funds to assist towards the care expenses of the pet(s) – although this is not legally binding.
Can you set up a trust for your horse (or other animals)?
The law views pets – horses, dogs, cats, etc. – as property. As a result, a trust cannot be set up with the pet as the beneficiary. However, you can set up a trust to fund the expenses of a pet with the beneficiary being the person acting as the guardian of the pet. The trustee of the trust can distribute funds to the guardian for whatever expenses might be permitted by the terms of the trust.
Can you leave your house or farm to your dog or cat or horse?
Unfortunately not. However, you could set up a trust to permit the guardian of your pet(s) to continue to reside in the property with your pet(s) for a specified period of time (including the lifetime of the pet).
Any other tips to ensure peace of mind that your animals will be cared for after you pass?
One of the most important aspects is to ensure your executor has an idea of your wishes – as set out above this can be done either as specific directions in the Will or in a non-legally binding letter of wishes outside of the Will.