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What will become of your pet should you die first?

What will become of your pet should you die first?
Charlotte Pollard, a partner within Buckles Solicitors’ Private Client team, discusses the importance of including your pets in your will to avoid confusion should you predecease them
For most pet owners, animal companions are more akin to a much-loved family member than mere creature comfort. With that being said, the care and responsibility of pets are often overlooked when it comes to writing wills.
Who will take care of your pet after you die? How will the costs associated with its care be covered? These are all difficult yet important questions that must be considered to ensure our furry friends are looked after, no matter what.
"The care and responsibility of pets are often overlooked when it comes to writing wills"
Over the years, there have been well-documented cases of the rich and famous leaving large sums of money to care for their pets, but these issues are not just specific to celebrities. Many do not realise that pets are classed as possessions according to the law, and as such, they must be included in wills. Without specific instruction, it is unlikely that your pets will be cared for in the way you’d like, which may create confusion should you predecease them.   

Assessing the situation

This law applies to all pets, whether it be a goldfish or a golden retriever. Given the expensive nature of some breeds, the need to include specific instruction should not be understated, especially if you have a certain outcome in mind. However, due to the wording of the law, it is not possible to leave an inheritance directly to your pet — instead, there are other options that must be considered.
To begin with, owners must assess the usual lifespan of their pet and determine whether their care should be included in the will. It is possible to word it so that the care of all pets is covered, not just the pet they have at the time of writing.

A pet as a gift

Credit: PeopleImages
One option available to owners is to leave their pet as a gift to a trusted friend or relative. If this is the course of action that owners prefer to take, then it is best practice to name a first- and second-choice beneficiary in case either party is unable or unwilling at the time.
Before naming your choices, owners are encouraged to check with both parties first, as it may be a duty they cannot fulfill. As part of this arrangement, owners may also wish to include a cash legacy, carefully drafted as a condition of caring for the pet.
This cash legacy can be used to thank the agreeing party, whilst providing enough money to cover the cost of any future care. Of course, determining an appropriate amount is a vital part of the process that experienced lawyers can help you calculate.

Involvement of charities

If nobody is willing to take care of the pet, then it is possible to name a specific animal charity to handle its care. If it cannot be suitably rehomed, then the charity may agree to look after the pet as part of the conditions. Again, owners can choose to include a conditional gift of cash to cover the cost of care, which may encourage charities to agree.

Creating a legacy

Credit: Kerkez
Understandably, there will be some owners who feel uncomfortable about the idea of leaving a cash legacy. In practice, how can they be sure the money will be used for the pet’s benefit and not the agreeing party? This is where a trust can help.
According to the law, a trust is not valid if it is not for the benefit of ascertainable individuals. There must be an identifiable beneficiary to enforce a trust for it to be valid, and although trusts “for purposes” are generally not valid, the court accepts there are some anomalous exceptions known as “trusts of imperfect obligation” that can exist without a human beneficiary to enforce it, where:
  • It relates to tombs/monuments
  • It is for the provision of masses in private; or
  • It benefits a specific animal
However, because these trusts deviate from the usual beneficiary principle, the maximum term of the trust is limited to 21 years, although this may be suitable for some dog or cat owners.
"The maximum term of trusts is limited to 21 years; this may be suitable for some dog or cat owners"
Upon arrangement of the trust, a named trustee will be given full responsibility for the administration and control of the finances, ensuring vet bills, food, treats and toys are all paid for. A letter of wishes can also be included as part of this option, advising the trustee on how best to provide care.  

Cremation and burial

Another important consideration is what happens to a pet once it dies. In recent years, pet cemeteries have grown in popularity, but there are some owners who will prefer to have their pet’s ashes remain with them after they die.
Within a will or side letter of wishes, the owner can make recommendations on where they want the ashes to be scattered, with the necessary arrangements made for either a woodland burial or human and pet scattering. Although these wishes are not legally binding, they will help the decision-making process in your absence.
"Pet cemeteries have grown in popularity, but some owners prefer to have their pet’s ashes remain with them after they die"
Whatever the situation may be, an experienced private client lawyer will support individuals throughout the process, ensuring no stone is left unturned so that a pet is cared for in the best way possible.
Image of a discount offer for a Which? will
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