Australian pets in Wills

  • Tax Effective 3-Generation Testamentary Trust Single Will

  • $550 incl. GST

  • Tax Effective 3-Generation Testamentary Trust Mutual Wills

  • $770 incl. GST

Pets in Wills

I grew up with dogs, cats, birds and other pets. They are now an important part of our son’s life and development.

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. Over 62% of Australian households own pets. There are more than 24 million pets in Australia.

Dogs are the most popular pet, with 37% of households owning a dog. Cats are the second most popular pet, with 31% of households owning a cat. As I write this our son’s cat, Jellybean is at home in my sock drawer. This brings screams of happiness from my son to see.

There are 4.2 million pet birds and another 2.5 million other pets. These include horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles and other mammals. 

Is a pet an asset? Oscar the celebrity dog with his own Instagram account.

Oscar is owned by Kenneth Flavell and Gina Edwards and their friend (well ex-friend) Mark Gillespie. They had a tiff.

The two parties had shared custody of Oscar and his Instagram account. This is until their relationship soured. Flavell and Edwards are not in possession of the pup.

In the separation they all want Oscar.

The pair seek damages for an alleged breach of contract by Gillespie, want him restrained from removing Oscar from their care and want legal recognition that they are the dog’s “legal and beneficial owners”. They are also seeking an injunction to stop Gillespie from posting anything defamatory about them.

In turn, Gillespie is seeking control of Oscar’s Instagram account, which “may or may not still be online but which could still be an item of some value” and damages for the pair’s “detention” of the dog he claims is his.

“In other words, both parties want the dog,” the NSW district court judge Judith Gibson in 2020.

They all believe the dog to be worth over $20,000, therefore, the matter was elevated to the NSW Supreme Court.

Now you may be saying just go to the dog pound and get another dog. I agree. But it shows that animals are assets and those assets can be put in the Will.

Can you put pets in your Will?

Under Australian law pets are property. The law provides that animals are the property of or owned by the person who purchases them from the pet shop, the breeder or the pound. Pets are therefore treated like any other property and can be given as a gift to a person or organization. Your pet, while part of the family, is also an ‘asset’ that you can give away in your Will.

A. The argument to NOT give away your pets as a specific gift

Our law firm does not like specific gifts in Wills. They add complexity. We do not like giving away pets as gifts especially with money, as it puts more complexity into your Will. It is generally better to let your Residuary Beneficiaries just look after your pets. If you do not make provision for your pet in your Will the Residuary Beneficiaries inherit your pets.

Your Residuary Beneficiaries probably love you. And they will probably love your pets. They are the thread that keeps your memory alive.

Also, it is highly likely that your animal will die before you. 

B. The argument to mention your pet in a specific gift

Animals, like small children, cannot support and care for themselves. Animals who are not provided for by their “adoptive parents” may find themselves in the local pound or euthanised. Giving your pet to a special person (and perhaps some money) protects them.

How to ‘gift’ your pet to a specific person

But, if you must specifically give away your furry, feathered or scaly friend, then here are examples of how to do so.


Specific Gift – Pet and money

my cat called Jellybean, my boxer dog called Prince and any other pets that I may own at the date of my death and the sum of $5,000, but this gift fails if I have no pets at the date of my death

Full Name of the Person:

First NameThomas

Last Name: Smith

Specific Gift – specific beneficiaries, plus backups with conditions

my black and white cat called Minki (and any other pets) together with the sum of $10,000, but this gift is subject to and conditional upon my pets being kept in a healthy environment and if re-homed this must be to a quality indoor home only. My pet must not be surrendered or euthanised unless a qualified vet has deemed a condition as terminal or unhealthy for my pet. If I have no pets at the date of my death then this gift fails

Full Name of the Person:

First NameThomas

Last Name: Smith but if Thomas Smith is dead or unable to care for my pet then my mother Muriel May Smith but if Muriel May Smith is dead or unable to care for my pet then Minky Mini Kitty Commune (ABN 69 348 678 275)

Specific Gift – right to live in the home with a pet

my black and white cat called Minki (and any other pets) together with the sum of $10,000, a life estate in [10 Current Street, Suburb] or any home that I own at the date of my death for life. All rates, taxes, insurances and other expenses to be paid by the specific beneficiary. But if I have no pets at the date of my death then this gift fails

Full Name of the Person:

First NameThomas

Last Name: Smith but if Thomas Smith is dead or unable to care for my pet then my mother Muriel May Smith but if Muriel May Smith is dead or unable to care for my pet then Minky Mini Kitty Commune (ABN 69 348 678 275)

Create a pet care plan

Not in your Will, but in a covering letter share a detailed list of caring for your pet. Include dietary restrictions, favourite toys and even temperament issues. This information helps identify friends, family members and charities.

Can I provide money to look after my pet?

You cannot leave money directly to your pet – but you can nominate a specific beneficiary to look after them and leave a gift to that person to cover the associated expenses.

How much money should I give to the specific beneficiary?

Unsure of how much is required to set aside for your pet? Then speak with your vet. A family member or friend is happy with no money – or a few thousand dollars. But charities are not so giving.

If the charity can not make money or break even then they do not take on the care of your animal.

I know this from bitter experience. Since I was admitted as a lawyer in 1988 I have had the privilege of looking after many dogs and cats that charities have refused to look after for my dead clients. This is because the accompanied money was not enough! In one instance my client had donated over $120,000 to an animal charity during her lifetime. At her death, the charity refused to take Ralf her loving Labrador Retriever. With her family living overseas, with their permission, my wife picked up that wonderful pup and he is an important part of our family. Her children came from Scotland last year and visited us and Ralf.

If you are leaving your pet to a charity ensure there are sufficient assets to last your pet’s lifetime. Care costs include food and special dietary needs. Veterinary expenses include special veterinary care if your pet develops an illness or age-related disorder. Consider grooming (our cocker spaniel, Marcia, needs continual cutting), toys, outings and other items you want for your pet.


Ananya is a widow and lives with her two cats.

She is concerned about their care and welfare when she dies. She wishes for her friend to look after her two cats when she is dead. She calculates that the cats cost around $50 a week. If they live a long and healthy life they have at least 10 years left.

$50 per week x 52 weeks x 10 years = $26,000

Letter of wishes

In addition to naming who should look after your pet, you can also write a letter of wishes, giving the person who will be caring for your pet all the information they need to know to be your pet’s carer. Your letter of wishes has two main purposes: first, it provides your pet’s carer with vital information such as dietary needs and medical issues, and second, it allows you to specify how you’d like your pet to be cared for. The letter can also contain important information such as microchip ID number, age and breed.

For more legal advice, telephone us. We are a law firm. We can help you answer the questions.

Adjunct Professor, Dr Brett Davies,  CTA, AIAMA, BJuris, LLB, Dip Ed, BArts(Hons), LLM, MBA, SJD
Legal Consolidated Barristers and Solicitors
National Australian law firm
39 Stirling Highway, Nedlands, WA

Mobile:       0477 796 959
Direct:        08 6389 0400
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Email:         [email protected]
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