What happens if a loved one leaves all their money to a pet?

Published 11 Feb 2015

Author: David Cossalter

When preparing a will, it is not unusual for people to want their pets to be appropriately cared for in the event of their death.

In fact, many consider cats, dogs and other animals as an important part of the family. Some people go as far as to leave a large percentage of their assets to their pets or an animal charity.

However, this can lead to will disputes among family members, particularly if they receive a smaller proportion of the deceased's estate or are left out of the will entirely.

In these circumstances, people can pursue a family provision claim to argue that they have not been adequately provided for in a loved one's will.

What are the rules surrounding pets and wills?

There are several ways an individual can set aside money for the purposes of pet care when writing a will. These include:

  • Leaving a friend or family member a lump sum to look after the animals
  • Establishing a testamentary trust
  • Providing money to a charity with a legacy program

A trust allows the testator to appoint a carer for their pets. NSW Trustee & Guardian even has a practice that can check up on whoever has been selected to look after pets to ensure they are doing it properly.

Alternatively NSW Animal Welfare and the state's RSPCA branch have legacy initiatives, which promise to care for pets after the owner dies. Animals are either suitably re-homed or housed in a special facility.

Even people who do not leave a large portion of their estate for the care of their pets may still decide to give cash to an animal sanctuary or charity in their will.

Can I challenge the will?

While people are expected to include provisions for the care of their pets when writing a will, some family members may object if animals receive a disproportionately large share of the estate.

It is not unknown for testators to leave all their assets to an animal charity upon their death. However, individuals are expected to account for various close family members in their will, including spouses, children and dependants.

If they choose to leave certain people out of the will, a family provision claim has a good chance of success, even in cases where the plaintiff is estranged from the deceased.

To learn more about your options for contesting a will, please contact an experienced disputes lawyer in NSW.

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