I am a doggie person; some people prefer cats. There are of course many other varieties of pets, but we are undeniably a nation of pet lovers. My beloved boy, Finley, the little rescue dog we collected eight years ago, is my ‘world’ now that my children are up and away and has been joined by another friend called Flora. What happens to them if both my husband and I were to die together is extremely important to me.
I am not alone; over 45% of households in the UK own a pet but that statistic is from 2018 and I can only think that percentage would have grown during the pandemic. I know from my many home visits that virtually every pet owner feels the same way I do about their pet.
However there are a few things to consider to ensure they are cared for after our death. The Administration of Estates Act 1925 defines domestic animals as ‘personal chattels’ and therefore your pet can be gifted just as you would gift any of your other possessions.
Sometimes I get the impression that a client is gifting their pet quite easily at their death and I worry that the recipient does not feel quite so happy at being given such a responsibility if and when that time comes. So, you must make sure that person is fully aware they have been nominated as the guardian of your pet. You may be gifting an old or infirm pet or a pet with a long-life span such as a parrot or a tortoise. Has your proposed guardian considered the task ahead?
Of course, the cost of housing, feeding and caring for a pet must also be considered as it can be a sizeable amount. For example, a horse could need livery, or at least stabling. You would not want your guardian to refuse to care for the animal simply due to lack of funds.
The clauses that can be used within your Will to achieve the appropriate care for your pet are varied. They could range from a lump sum to the guardian on the condition of caring for your pet through to a regular income to the guardian. Again, the clauses need to be carefully considered to encompass all the pets you own at the time of your death, or specific pets, depending on your wishes. It is probably a good idea also to have a reserve guardian, just as you would for your children, in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to act as your pet’s carer.
I have been asked by clients if they can leave a gift of money to a pet. This is not possible as the pet cannot take receipt of the money nor can it open a bank account! Instead the gift must be left to the guardian.
Sometimes there is simply no one to whom we feel we can leave our pet. In those circumstances, certain charities, both local and national, will provide rehoming schemes. To name a few, the national charities are: the RSPCA’s Home for Life, the Cinnamon Trust and The Dog’s Trust. If you are considering using these services, often the charities concerned require certain wording to be included within your Will. Of course, it would be appropriate, although not essential, to leave a donation to that charity on condition of rehoming your pet. Please don’t forget how important legacies are to charities to continue their excellent work with our strays and other specific projects.
And finally, your Will should include what happens to the legacy in your Will if your chosen caretaker does not take on the responsibility of your pet or, indeed, you outlive your pet.
As ever, it is essential that you take appropriate advice in drawing up your Will. Personally I believe it helps if the estate planner concerned is an animal lover!