Canadians Are Leaving Money to Their Dogs in Their Will

Posted by Allie Layos
The Globe And Mail/Ben Nelms

For years people have referred to their dogs as their "kids," and now they're taking it quite literally by including their dogs in their will. 

Jack and Megan Bernard are a prime example of this trend. From Vancouver, Canada, this couple chose to remember not only their two children in their will, but their dog, Willis, as well.

A rescue dog from India, Willis is now five years old, and has lived with the Bernards since he was a puppy.

"Similar to how we would leave money for them to take care of the kids, we are leaving money for the dog," Megan Bernard said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

"He's family."

If something should happen to the Bernards, they don't want Willis back on the street again, and so they are making provisions to prevent this scenario.

This kind of foresight is a growing trend, according to Barry Seltzer, a lawyer and co-author of Fat Cats & Lucky Dogs: How to Leave (Some of) Your Estate to Your Pet.

"Very often, people are closer to their pets than they are to their other family members or children," Seltzer said.

In fact, he has been drawing up wills that include pets in his Toronto office for years. While people found the concept strange in the early days, it is a much more common practice today.

Janet Sim, another Toronto-based attorney in the trust and estates group at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, is also seeing a spike in this practice.

"It's an interesting commentary on where pets stand in terms of people's lives these days," she said.

Senior woman and dog

One of the most high-profile cases involving a pet being included in a will took place in 2007, when billionaire Leona Helmsley left her dog, a white Maltese named Trouble, a $12 million (U.S.) trust fund. When her grandchildren contested the will, a judge reduced the pet's fund to $2 million the following year -- an amount that still left Trouble a very rich dog.

However, most pets don't get anywhere near $2 million. The average amount left for pets falls between $10,000 (Canadian) and $15,000. But, regardless of how much money you have, Seltzer encourages clients to leave a set sum instead of an open-ended one so that money is not able to be drawn after the pet passes.

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Canadians Are Leaving Money to Their Dogs in Their Will