We love our pets, and understandably we want to make sure they are well looked after, especially if we were to die. So, if we want to leave an inheritance to our pets, how do we ensure that this wish is fulfilled?

Are pets legally able to inherit from their owners?

In 2019, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld made headlines across the globe after leaving part of his $300 million fortune to his beloved cat.

In Australia, it is not legally possible to follow Karl Lagerfeld's lead and leave the bulk of our estate to an animal. While there are provisions in law that enable people to provide for their cat, dog, horse, parrot or other creature in their will, Australians are unable to leave an inheritance to their pets.

This is because in Australia, pets are themselves legally defined as property, just like a car, house or chair. Therefore they are unable to inherit assets.

Setting up a foundation or trust for your pet

While Germany may have specific laws relating to leaving an inheritance to your pet, in Australia one way to ensure your will provides for your pet is to create a foundation or trust with the sole purpose of taking care of your beloved animal.

In this situation, a trusted director would be responsible for using the funds to ensure the pet's care. They may also give the money to an existing charity, stipulating that the necessary funds be used for the pet's welfare.

A trust that is set up to look after a pet must have a human as a beneficiary to enforce the trust. Unfortunately, in some cases, when the pet has died, the beneficiary has been known to replace it with a similar animal, to ensure that they continue to receive the money.

Careful planning required to ensure future care of your pet

Under Australian law, pets can be gifted to another person, just like property.

You can also allocate money in your will to caring for your pet. However, this may not go according to plan, particularly if the new owner decides they don't want the pet, or they themselves die. (See Animal Law Guide New South Wales, The Law Society of New South Wales, 2010.)

This is why thorough planning is essential to ensure your pet is legally provided for after you die. This is where a specialist in wills and estates can help, by providing guidance on the best way to ensure that the future care of your pet is as secure as possible.

Joshua Crowther
Legal wills
Stacks Law Firm

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.