What you need to know when your pet outlives you
I go for a my morning walk every day now as part of a new routine I created during “lockdown”. I’m amazed by how many people have pets – I see dogs out for a walk with their owners, cats going into their houses and many horse-riders on the roads.
Having had pets, I understand first-hand how much they become part of the family. So it intrigues me that on death, the majority of clients leave their estate to family members, as well as friends who have become like family. Yet, their beloved pet has been overlooked in the Will. This leaves unanswered questions about who should look after their pet and how will the costs associated with the pet be accounted for?
The purpose of this article is to highlight issues for you to consider and to explore some of the provisions for your pet that you may wish to consider including in your Will.
How should you identify your pet in your Will?
The most practical inclusion would be to specifically name your pet in your Will or make a general gift, such as a gift of “my dogs” or “my cats” as this will include any future pets.
What is the position if this is not included?
Where there is no specific person or charity named in the Will then the executors of the Will are responsible for where your pet will be cared for. In these circumstances your executors may not be aware of vital medical needs, behavioural issues, dietary requirements and the general routine of the pet or how you would want the pet to be cared for. To mitigate these circumstances you should consider preparing a separate letter of wishes where you can outline the specific requirements for the pet and chose an appropriate beneficiary to care for the pet.
A beneficiary could include a friend, relative or someone else who may be familiar with your pet or animals in general. When you choose the beneficiary you should take into consideration the life expectancy of your pet and the age of the beneficiary.
You may wish to also consider animal charities, and many of them have pre-need registration schemes that can be signed up to. These type of agreements will give the charity the responsibility to look after your pet after your death and they will try to find them a new home.
What should you consider?
An executor of your estate does not have the power to make a one-off payment to the recipient of your pet unless they have discretionary powers in the Will or unless the other beneficiaries agree to reduce their entitlement under your Will.
Looking after a pet can be expensive and time consuming so the beneficiary may be reluctant in agreeing to look after the pet without financial provision.
Whilst some charities are designed specifically to look after certain types of pets on the death of the owner they rely on fundraising, grants and gifts in Wills to contribute towards these costs.
It is important to consider what financial provision would be required. An easy exercise you could do is to calculate the costs of looking after your pet; this should include any pet insurance, a contingency fund to cover the excess payment of vet bills, and the cost of the food that you purchase, and any other costs such as grooming and stable/kennel fees that you incur on an annual basis.
How do you ensure that the financial implications of owning a pet are taken care of?
You are able to leave a specific monetary gift to a beneficiary so that they are financially provided for to assist with the costs of looking after your pet. This could be a fixed amount or an income generating asset on the understanding that they will take care of your pet.
Given that the life expectancy can vary from pet to pet it is also possible to include a Trust fund for a defined period of time where funds can be used towards the costs of looking after your pet. Your Will can confirm what happens to the Trust fund on the death of the pet during that period.
Alternatively you may wish to include a discretionary trust for a longer period of time (up to 125 years!) which will provide your executors with more flexibility towards the contribution of costs regarding the upkeep of your pet.
How we can help
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article then I or one of my colleagues in our Trusts, Estates and Tax team will be happy to assist you with your options.
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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