June 20, 2023 | Sandra Pierce


Did you know the human brain is wired to prevent us from thinking about our own mortality?

Researchers at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University determined that the mind shields us from the existential thought by viewing death as “an end result” that only befalls other people, and not ourselves.

Participants in their study were shown either their own face, or the face of a stranger on a screen multiple times in succession. The last image, however, was a completely different face. This allowed researchers to examine 'surprise' signals in the brain, as the last image was not what was expected to follow in the sequence.

Words relating to death, such as ‘funeral’ were shown above the faces 50% of the time. These sorts of words, appearing next to someone's own face, caused the brain's prediction system to shut off as it was unable to put itself together with the idea of death.

Yair Dor-Ziderman, a graduate student at Bar-Ilan University’s Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Centre, has spent the last few years studying the way people deal with death.

“The brain does not accept that death is related to us. We have this primal mechanism that means when the brain gets information that links self to death, something tells us it’s not reliable, so we shouldn’t believe it.”

Maybe this accounts for the worrisome stats recently gathered by Angus Reed pollsters:

  • 69 percent of people between the ages of 35 to 44,
  • 49 percent of Canadians between 45 and 54,
  • And 34 percent of people between 55 and 64


As I’m sure everyone wants their estate to pass on to their heirs in the timeliest and tax-efficient manner, this information was truly mindboggling. But the point of this blog is to have an erudite discussion through the eyes of a dog owner, and what it tells me is too many four-legged family members are not assured of being taken care of should their owner pass.

Today over half of Canadians own a pet, yet a recent survey shows only 7% have made formal arrangements for them.


TO ALL YOU PET OWNERS – if there is no provision in your estate planning or if you’re one of the many who haven’t even got a will, your beloved might not be taken care of in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed to after you’re gone.

In my very unscientific survey of pet owners, I often get the response “the kids will certainly take care of her” or “my best friend has assured me not to worry”. But these are loaded with assumptions.

As a daughter of a retired veterinarian, I thought I knew everything I needed about pet care, until it came to a multi-dog owning parent who overnight had become incapacitated. I realized my definition of ‘pet care’ was very narrow.

Not only was there nothing in his will about his dogs, he hadn’t even entertained the possibility of being around but not being able to care for them himself.

It was left to me to find caregivers who could not only tend to him but the dogs as well. When it came time for the move to a long-term care facility, he was fortunate that there was someone who was willing to give his beloved Bob a home, with the agreement being we would cover all the vet bills.

A recent BMO Estate Planning survey revealed that of respondents who indicated they had made some kind of arrangement for their pet, only two in five had chosen to provide a monetary legacy.

So that next-door neighbor or relative you’re relying on to take care of FIDO may not be able to as he ages. The most significant costs of pet care come in the more senior years – medication and possibly even surgery can be prohibitively expensive for somebody to take on simply as a favour to you.

Even though our brain likes to shield us from the inevitable, it behooves us to think not just about death but about the facts relating to incapacity:

  • A healthy woman, in her working years, stands a 1 in 4 chance of suffering a disability that lasts three months or longer.
  • For those who suffer from a disability, there’s a one in three chance it will last for five years or longer.
  • Once you enter your retirement years, the odds of becoming incapacitated increase dramatically, due in large part to the odds of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or another age-related dementia condition.
  • One in three seniors is suffering from Alzheimer’s, or a similar condition, at the time of their death.

Estate planning is not the most popular topic of conversation. However, your family pet and family members deserve that you plan for all possibilities. Doing so will not only help protect what matters most and supports an efficient wealth transfer, it will also ease the burden on your loved ones. Things will be very messy if you don’t.

So, if you need to learn more about how best to account for both two- and four-legged family members, reach out to me. And please pass this along to all your pet-owning friends.

“Animals are sentient, intelligent, perceptive, funny, and entertaining. We owe them a duty of care as we do our children.”

Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse