Making provision for your pet in your will
For most pet owners, their beloved animals are a hugely important and fulfilling part of their lives, often being regarded as part of the family.
However, while they play such a central role on a daily basis, all too often, consideration is not given to what will happen to these cherished pets after their owner’s death.
Without express provision being made in a will, an animal is treated as a mere asset under the law and, as such, forms part of the residuary estate. So while a pet may be a cherished part of life, after death, they could well be treated as ‘just another possession’.
To avoid this happening, it is crucial to make provision for your pet to ensure that their future care, accommodation and medical treatment is catered for.
It is possible to leave a gift in your will for your pet’s care but it is important to clearly state what it relates to. You should use your pet’s name and make express statements as to your intentions. Through a letter of wishes, full information should be given about your pet – including breed, age and microchip ID number – alongside detailed arrangements for their future.
You should take into account who will care for your animal on the event of your death, be that a friend, relative, or someone else who would be willing and able to take responsibility for their care. It is a good idea to also name a substitute beneficiary, in case your first option proves not to be viable through their own death or ill health.
Life expectancy of your pet is a key factor to consider in deciding who should look after it – many breeds of dog can live beyond the age of 13, koi can live more than 30 years and a cockatoo can even exceed the age of 65, so it is important that the age of the new owner is well considered.
Financial provision can be made for the ongoing care of the pet either through an absolute gift (which gives a named person the right to take care of your pet on your behalf) or else a trust can be established, which can give one or more people financial provision for the pet. If your animal is to be entrusted to an animal welfare charity, like the RSPCA or Dog’s Trust, a will can provide for this by making a gift to that charity.
When making financial provision for your pet, you must specify any current needs, such as vital medical or dietary requirements and behavioural issues, as well as taking into account its likely future needs – for example, medication and vet bills may increase as it gets older and its care needs grow. Your gift can be index-linked, so it remains in line with inflation.
It is important to ensure the provision is adequate since the person to whom you have bequeathed your pet may be reluctant to accept it if the amount given is likely to fall far short of the cost of caring for it. If the amount falls short, it can be difficult for executors to increase this.
As pets play such a central role in so many people’s lives, it would be unthinkable that the love and care they enjoy would not continue should anything happen to their owner. That is why it is so important to make express provision for them in a will.
If any guidance is needed on exactly what should be included, it is important to seek professional legal advice, so that you can be safe in the knowledge that your beloved pet will be looked after as you would wish.
Michael Cattermole is a solicitor in the specialist wills and probate team at law firm Sintons, based in Newcastle. To speak to him about this or any other matter, contact Michael on 0191 226 3791 or firstname.lastname@example.org.