Taking care of your pets in your will

 20 July 2022
Taking care of your pets in your will

Paul Hammond writes:

I've recently become a dad again - to a mischievous pair of Labradoodle puppies who love to chew, play and cuddle (but not necessarily in that order!).

As any pet owner will tell you, it doesn't take long for a small bundle of fur or feathers to become one of the family. (About 1mins 30 seconds in our case.) We take care of their needs, from food to toys, beds to training, even though we know it's a finite relationship.

As members of our family, we also need to consider what happens to them in the event of us passing away. As a nation of pet lovers, 44% of us who own a pet plan to leave money in our will to make sure our pets are taken care of for the rest of their lives.

Pets as chattels

All pet animals in the UK are considered to be “personal chattels”, which means they are possessions. So, you can’t leave money to your pet directly, as a possession can’t open a bank account!

Instead, you can gift your pet/s to a person you trust to look after them, known as a pet guardian or pet caregiver. You should seek that person’s permission before naming them in your will.

You may also want to have a back-up guardian too, as the Co-op suggests:

“You can choose a substitute beneficiary, just in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to act when the time comes. For example, the person you chose to look after your pet may have already died, or may no longer be able to deal with the responsibility due to illness or a change in circumstances.”

Providing for your pet’s needs

If you gift a pet to someone in your will, you can also give the same person a cash gift to cover the costs of looking after the pet/s in the future. Your will needs to make it clear that the gift should only be given if the person you appoint if they take on the responsibility of looking after your pet.

If you wish to make your pet’s provision legally binding, you will need to set up a pet Trust. This ensures that money “ring-fenced” in the Trust is only used for the pet’s care. Just like any other Trust, you’ll need to appoint a Trustee for your Trust, who may or may not be the person who is the pet guardian. Money in the Trust should be sufficient for all your pet’s ongoing requirements including vet’s bills and insurance. Bear in mind pet care costs may increase as your pet ages, or if it requires surgery.

Considering setting up any Trust should be done with the help of an estate planning profession, such as myself.

Care for your pets when you can no longer do it

You may also need to make provision for your pets within the Trust should you become unable to care for them in the future. It's a particular concern for terminally ill or elderly owners whose own declining health mean they may not be able to care for their pets or take them into care with them.

The Cinnamon Trust is a national charity that helps those in declining health care for their pets, and:

“When staying at home is no longer an option, our Pet Friendly Care Home Register lists care homes and retirement housing happy to accept residents with pets, and providing previous arrangements have been made with us we will take on life time care of a bereaved pet.”

Enough or too much?

It can be difficult to judge how much to leave in a pet Trust. The average amount in the UK is just over £3,600, but those aged over 65 are more generous, with 13% leaving over £20,000. That may sound a lot for a single older dog or cat, but may be required for a larger pet such as a horse, or an exotic pet with specific requirements.

What tends to grab the headlines are the vast amounts left by US celebrities for the care of their pets. TV chat show Oprah Winfrey has reportedly set up a $30 million Trust for her five dogs. Real estate millionaire Leona Helmsley left her Maltese dog Trouble a bequest of $12million in her will.

However, Ms Helmsley also (deliberately) left her two grandchildren out of the will entirely. The will was contested, and the case went to court, resulting in $2million being allocated to the dog, $6million to the grandchildren and the remainder to charity.

The moral of that story may be to ensure what you leave to ensure the care of your pet/s is proportionate and realistic, and won’t provoke a response such that your will may be contested.

Charity care for your pets

You can also request in your will that a specific animal charity looks after your pet. You should inform the charity in question in advance, as they may have a scheme in place to help. For example, the Blue Cross offers their “Pet Peace of Mind” service, so that:

“Should the worst happen, we’ll do everything we can to find them a loving, happy new home … we consider all applications for dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, chinchillas, degus, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and rats.”

You can register up to four pets with the Blue Cross, and whilst the service is free, the charity welcomes bequests and gifts in will to help fund the charity’s work.

Pet Trusts and Panthers Estate Planning

If you’d like to discuss any aspect of your estate planning, including Trusts, call me for a consultation. Or check our Trusts page (https://www.pantheraestateplanning.co.uk/estate-planning-services/trusts) for more details.

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I am happy in the knowledge that should anything untoward happen in the future, Panthera will resolve the problem.

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