In the UK, we are pet crazy. Our pets are part of the family and we would not have it any other way. That said, few of us take the time to consider what we would want to happen to our pets if we died before them and how we can benefit them.
How can I protect my pet after my death?
From a strictly legal perspective, pets fall within the category of personal possessions. This means that you can gift them to someone else and make arrangements for them in your Will.
There are clear benefits to having a plan for your four-legged friend. Firstly, you will have the peace of mind that your beloved pet will be well cared for after your death. Secondly, you know who will be providing that care. Thirdly, having a plan will minimise the disruption and distress for your pet after your death.
Can I leave my entire estate to my pet?
WARNING: You cannot leave an inheritance to your pet directly. As much as we love our four-legged companions there are certain things they cannot do; this includes opening a bank account, receiving an inheritance and spending it.
The ways you can provide for your pet are set out in Option 1, 2 and 3 below.
How can I provide for my pet in my Will?
Option 1: Gift of your Pet with optional cash gift
This is the most common option. It is best for when you have a family member or friend who can take in your animals after you die. In these circumstances, you can leave a gift of your pets in your Will to that particular person. You can even name a backup person to take care of your pets, in case your first choice is no longer willing or able to act.
Alongside the gift of your pet, you can also leave the person receiving your animals a cash gift. The gift often has a dual purpose. Firstly, the gift can be used to cover the added expenses of your pet and secondly, to act as a thank you. The cash gift is usually only made on the basis the person agrees to take on your pet after your death. This will need to be drafted as a condition of the gift into the Will.
Option 2: Request to Charity
If there is no-one who is willing to take in your animals, you can request that they are looked after or rehomed by a named animal charity.
Different charities have different policies in place, so it is important to research these thoroughly. For example, you may want the reassurance that your companions will be cared for by the charity even if it is not possible to have them rehomed.
Option 3: Set up a Pet Trust
Finally, you can choose to leave a cash gift in trust to generate an income for your pets after your die. The idea being that the income generated can be used to maintain your animals, pay for insurance and veterinary bills and generally keep them in squeaky toys and yummy treats.
However, in order to set up a trust for your pets you need to have people you can depend on to run the trust (known as trustees). As your pet will not be able to enforce their rights or make sure that the money is spent in the way you intended, the structure depends on the goodwill and honesty of your trustees to use the money to look after your pet.
You will need to name beneficiaries to inherit the trust assets once your pet has died.
This type of trust must be carefully drafted to avoid being held invalid; professional advice is a must when setting up a pet trust.
Providing for your Pet: A Will Checklist
Before your draft your Will, we recommend considering the following:
1 – Who would be willing to look after your pets?
If you have someone in mind, it is important to speak to that person and make sure they are happy to be named in the Will. You do not want the gift of your pet to come as a surprise!
2 – Do you want to leave that person a gift for caring for your pet?
Alternatively, would they be willing to administer a trust solely set up for your pet?
3 – Do you want your Will to deal with your current pet only or all future pets as well?
To ensure you don’t have to update your Will every time you get a new pet, it can be a good idea to word your Will in a way that covers any pets you own at the date of your death.
4 – If there are no family members or friends able to look after your pets, do you have other wishes for them?
For example, Option 2 (rehoming via a charity).
What happens to pets whose owners do not make Wills?
If you are dealing with a deceased estate, you can read about the Cheltenham Animal Shelter’s role in helping families whose loved ones have died without a plan in our blog.
If you would like our trusted solicitors to review your existing Will and provide advice, you can book a FREE WILL REVIEW here.
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