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What happens if your cat or dog outlives you? Here's what estate planning for pets looks like

We take for granted that pet owners will outlive their furry companions, but life can be unpredictable.

What happens if your cat or dog outlives you? Here's what estate planning for pets looks like

Estate planning for pets: What to consider should your cat or dog outlive you. (Photo: iStock/Kerkez)

These days, cats get their own bedroom and rabbits are clocking more spa hours than their owners. Dogs go to daycare while their “pawrents” grind away. As pets slowly but surely dethroned children in a family unit, so has the estate planning landscape evolved.

“Many of our own financial consultants are pet lovers,” said Dylan Ng, a senior Group Financial Services Director of Infinity Financial Advisory.

“Our director sends his black Shiba Inu to doggy school every Monday to socialise and make friends with other dogs.”

Infinity recently kicked off their Paws & Provisions campaign to raise awareness about estate planning for pets. What exactly does that entail? Ng gave CNA Lifestyle the lowdown.


Like providing for a vulnerable beneficiary, such as a child with special needs, estate planning for pets ensures they’re looked after as we intended if we leave this world before they do.

A couple with their pet dog. (Photo: iStock/Koh Sze Kiat)

But here’s the thing – our animal companions are classified as property, which means they can’t be named as beneficiaries or inherit our stuff directly.

“For example, I cannot bequeath a lump sum to my dog, Sugar, in her name. But I can appoint a caregiver as a beneficiary in my will, provided they agree to care for her, indirectly making Sugar a ‘beneficiary’,” Ng explained.

He added that relying on your next-of-kin without entrusting them with funds isn’t the best move, as reducing their financial burden will make them more inclined to step up. On that note, your will can be structured such that your chosen caregiver can only access your money after accepting the responsibility.

You may be thinking: Of course your family or bestie will watch over your pet. They’re tight. It’s a nice thought, but Ng suggested hedging your bets by including options for a backup caregiver or alternate arrangements. If Plan A foils, your pet’s future won't be in jeopardy.

A man with his pet cat. (Photo: iStock/Koh Sze Kiat)

But a will isn’t always airtight. Sure, they’re legally binding documents that help divvy up your estate posthumously. And yes, you can name a caregiver and earmark specific funds. But once your assets are distributed, the executor’s job is technically done. In other words, he isn’t legally obligated to see your wishes through. This is where a pet trust comes into play.


“Setting up a trust, especially with an appointed trustee company, has the legal obligation to ensure that your wishes are carried out according to your instructions. Whereas a will is based on trust (in your relationship with the caregiver), ironically,” Ng explained.

With a pet trust in place, your chosen caregiver can’t pull a fast one on your hard-earned assets. They’re legally obligated to spend the money exclusively on your pet’s needs, so no extravagant spa days using your bunny’s fortune. This comes with a price tag, as you’ve got to appoint a trustee or trustee company. The latter serves as the fiduciary, managing your assets for the benefit of a person or purpose (caring for your pet).

Does your cat demand New Zealand king salmon? Does your dog throw a fit if his steak isn’t well-done? You’d better put that down in black and white.

Feeding a pet cat. (Photo: iStock/Chalabala)

“For example, I would like it if Sugar goes to a particular groomer on a bi-monthly basis. Under a will, the caregiver is responsible for doing so, but that depends on their sense of accountability,” shared Ng.

Under a pet trust, however, they’re legally obligated to stick to your game plan or risk having the funds frozen, he said.


So, here's the big question: Who's going to step into your shoe? Ideally, your appointed caregiver will be a friend or a family member – someone whom you trust and your pet loves – who checks the following boxes.

First off – are they up for it? Taking care of a pet cannot be a one-sided affair, and the transition can be tricky for both parties. Not everyone is ready to commit to three hours a week of puppy yoga.

Young family with a cat at home. (Photo: iStock/Koh Sze Kiat)

Next, at what fee will they be happy to take on the responsibility? Ng explained that pet owners often offer cash so their appointed caregiver is motivated, especially if the arrangement stretches over years. 

And let’s not forget about their crib situation. Your Saint Bernard may be a gentle giant, but legally, an HDB flat is a no-go. Cats, too, aren’t officially allowed, though many treat that rule like the one against jaywalking – with zero regard.

The final consideration is perpetuity. Best case scenario, your appointed caregiver outlives your pet. Worst case, your pet’s left in the lurch.

“With a trust, you can circumvent this by hiring a corporate trustee. Then you can be reassured of continuity,” said Ng. But, of course, that comes with a price tag.


How much money should you leave behind for your pet? Ng’s got a simple formula: Take your pet's annual costs, factor in their breed's average lifespan, and do the maths. Say your medium-sized dog, who is currently eight years old, is expected to live for five more years. If you drop around S$4,000 a year on caring for your doggo, it might be a good idea to allocate at least S$20,000.

But your pet may visit the vet more frequently as they age. For older dogs, vet care can be in the form of pain management. Make provisions for their medical bills, or consider covering unexpected expenses with a premium for pet insurance.

Ensure you’ve got their palate factored in, too. Ng shared the example of a client who only serves cooked meat to his dog – on a daily basis, no less. (No normie canned food or plain kibbles, thank you very much). And let’s not forget the fun stuff. If your dog is used to weekly swims, include that in your budget. At the end of the day, it’s all about maintaining your pet’s quality of life.

Golden retriever in a swimming pool. (Photo: iStock/Koh Sze Kiat)

Now, how much does it cost to have your estate plans sorted? Depending on the complexity, you might be looking at anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars for an elaborate one that involves a testamentary or standby trust. If this sounds like Greek to you, hit up a financial consultant or estate planner for a ballpark figure.

During the interview, Ng shared about a client who had a life-threatening health scare at just 42. Unmarried and child-free, this guy’s got five cats and a dog under his care. Each of them has its own lifestyle, and will follow a unique arrangement in his estate plan. For instance, a cat is destined for the care of a friend who only has room for one.

Pug left alone in the kitchen. (Photo: iStock/Maryviolet)

“The lesson here is that each and every pet is different and unique in its own way, and that life is very unexpected,” he said, stressing the importance of putting safeguards in place, whether you’re planning for your life partner or furry companion.

“As responsible pet owners, we’ve got to make sure they're cared for even when we’re not around. Our pets may not know we’re dead, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t feel the loss.”

Source: CNA/mm