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Pets are often considered part of the family, so ensuring they will be looked after after when their owner passes away is an important aspect of estate

Research has shown that slightly fewer than half of all Canadians have a last will and testament in place and only 35 per cent have one that’s up to date. That means surviving family could be faced not only with the task of trying to guess a loved one’s last wishes, but also what to do with pets left behind.

Kevin Greenard, a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria, B.C., says a pet is considered property under law and cannot be named as a beneficiary in a will, but it can be left to a named ‘caretaker’ if a friend or family member is willing to look after it. An additional option is to establish a pet trust to provide money the caretaker can use for the pet’s care.

“Many of our clients regard their pet as a family member, but most have not considered what will happen to their pet if they are no longer around to take care of it, so having a contingency plan in place is important,” he says.

The best option is to identify someone ahead of time who would be willing to care for your pet if you can no longer do so. If for any reason the caretaker is later unable or unwilling to care for pet, your will could give your executor the power to select an appropriate person to take their place.

Many of our clients regard their pet as a family member, but most have not considered what will happen to their pet if they are no longer around to take care of it.

Kevin Greenard, portfolio manager and director of wealth management, The Greenard Group, Scotia Wealth Management

Calculating how much money should be put into the pet trust could be based on an assessment of the life expectancy of your pet and an estimate of the annual cost of caring for it, says Mr. Greenard.

“Vets’ bills are perhaps the biggest annual cost, particularly if the pet needs specific medical care,” he adds. “Some of our clients have pet insurance for which they pay monthly premiums, and these can be budgeted out for future cash flows.”

However, each pet has different needs, and costs could differ significantly depending on how much food it needs, grooming costs and medication. Provision could also be made for cremation and burial at the end of the pet’s life, says Mr. Greenard.

But what if there’s no one who can take care of your pet? It’s a problem animal welfare organizations are well aware of, and most offer advice on what to do to avoid an uncertain future for pets who are left behind.

The BC SPCA, for example, has a pet survivor care program for people who pass away or become too incapacitated to care for their pets and have no friend or family member to take over. The BC SPCA will care for and shelter a pet and find them a new home, providing owners with the assurance that their pet’s future is safe and secure.

While the BC SPCA urges pet owners to ensure their furry friends are taken care of, it also welcomes bequests from pet lovers whose donations help support the organization’s animal welfare work. Gifts can include a range of assets from life insurance policies and publicly listed securities to RRSPs and real estate.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.