Who looks after your pet when you die?
According to a recent survey around 50%* of us own a pet in the United Kingdom. So it is not surprising that many of us are concerned about what happens to our beloved pets upon our deaths.
In the eyes of the law (at least) a pet is not a person. In legal terms, a domestic animal is a ‘chattel’ or possession and consequently, it is not possible to leave assets to it. Having said that, it is perfectly possible to make provision for the future care and welfare of a pet in your Will. Fortunately, making provisions for your pets in your Will is easy to do.
Make a Will
If you make a Will, when you die your Executors have immediate responsibility for your assets and that includes pets. Even if your Executors are not the people who ultimately give your animal a home, they will have the authority to start making arrangements for your pet’s immediate welfare.
Points to consider should you decide to plan for your pet’s future using your Will:-
Mentioning your pet in the Will
Ensure your pet is adequately identified in your Will. This is not necessarily an issue if you only have one pet or if all of your pets are going to the same person/charity etc. However should you have a number of similar animals that you are leaving to different people then more specific information to help your Executors understand which animal you are gifting to whom should be included.
If you name a particular pet but you no longer own it when you die, the gift will fail, even if you acquire another similar pet before you die. One way to get around this would be to include a substitute clause such as “any other dog I own at my death”.
Decide who will care for your pet
You could make a gift of your pet in your Will to a relative or friend who you know is willing to care for the animal. We would recommend speaking to the person you are considering as your pets carer in the first instance to ensure they would be happy to look after your pet.
You should also consider the life expectancy of your pet and that of the proposed carer and whether your pet will adapt to the carers lifestyle etc.
Even if the person agrees to care for your pet now, they may not be willing or able at the time of your death. You may therefore want to include substitute beneficiaries.
You could look to prepare 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. The letter can cover any dietary need and medical issues alongside age and breed of your pet. The letter can also express your wishes as to how you would like your pet to be cared for.
If you can’t decide who should take care of your pet now, an alternative is to gift your pet to your Executors along with a cash sum and write a letter of wishes indicating what the money is for and how you’d like them to choose a carer. Careful consideration should be given as to how much the cash sum should be. Your Executors will have no power to increase or even decrease the sum being given.
Financial gift to accompany the gift of your pet
If you don’t want to place a financial burden on that person who will look after your pet, you could leave them a sum of money to pay for your pets upkeep.
Of course, there’s always the risk that they might keep the money and get rid of your pet and there would be nothing in law to prevent them from doing that. So if you choose that option it’s wise to make sure the new owner is going to be totally committed to taking over the care of your animal for the rest of its natural life.
Set up a pet trust
Although you can’t make a pet the beneficiary of a Will or a trust, you can set up a trust either during your lifetime or in your Will which permits the trustees to use the trust money or other assets to pay for the care of your pet.
You will need to name beneficiaries who ultimately benefit from the trust assets after your pet has died.
Ask a charity
If you cannot think of someone you would like to look after your pet upon your death, or if you want to put an alternative plan in you may wish to consider asking a charity.
There are lots of charities such as The Cats’ Protection League, The Dogs Trust and The Cinnamon Trust, which all have schemes in place to care for or re-home your pet in the event of your death.
It is, however, recommended that you include your wish for a charity to take responsibility for your pet in your Will so that matters are clear.
Alternatively, even if you do not have a pet at the time of your passing, you may wish to include a cash gift an animal charity that has a commitment to caring for pets.
If you want to write a Will, or re-write a Will to include a family pet, then please contact a member of our team on 01245 504904, for assistance.
*PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report) – https://www.pdsa.org.uk/get-involved/our-campaigns/pdsa-animal-wellbeing-report/uk-pet-populations-of-dogs-cats-and-rabbits