Increasing numbers of pet owners are consulting lawyers to make provision for pets in their wills, yet many more are leaving it to chance and risk their pets ending up in an animal shelter, or worse still, being put down upon their owners’ death, say lawyers.
Nicola Waldman, private client lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen says that pet owners have a number of options open to them and can set money aside for their pet’s future care. She outlines the top five things all pet owners need to know to ensure their animals are cared for after their death:
- Speak to someone you trust about whether they would be prepared to care for your pet. One of the best options for pet owners is to leave their pet to someone they trust, such as a relative or friend, to look after them. If you have someone in mind, make sure you have spoken to them, that they are happy to take the pet and that you have written this into your will. It is possible to include a clause leaving that individual a cash gift either contingently on them taking responsibility for the pet for its lifetime (which may be difficult to enforce once the money has been paid) or preferably, just as an incentive for them to follow your wishes. Your will does need to be clear whether any legacy is payable even if there are no pets alive when you die and also if the provisions apply to any pets you own or specific named pets.
- If you have no one in mind, include a Letter of Wishes with your will that can be changed in the future. If you can’t think of anyone in particular to care for your pet when you are making your will or think that your wishes (or pets) might change, you could leave a legacy to your executors with a Letter of Wishes, setting out how they are to deal with both. The Letter can then be changed as circumstances dictate.
- You can’t leave money directly to pets. What you can do however is place money in a trust fund which allows trustees to pay out an income to whoever cares for your pet. Alternatively, it may be preferable to give the person or organisation you have chosen to care for your pet, a sum of money outright, so that they have access to the capital as well. This might be a token sum as a ‘thank you’ for taking on the responsibility and/or to cover the estimated costs of looking after your pet for the rest of its life.
- Spell out your wishes about how you want your pet cared for. If you are setting up a trust or leaving money to someone to look after your pet, you can stipulate how you would like them to be taken care of in a Letter of Wishes to be kept with your will. Although not legally binding this is helpful for whoever takes on your pet. If you have a dog for example you can include the kind of food you want them to eat, how often they should be walked and where they like to sleep. You may also want to include details of what should happen to your pets remains when / if they die.
- Leave your pet to a charity. An alternative is to ask an animal welfare charity to care for your pet or to find them a new home. A number of charities such as the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust run free re-homing schemes whilst others will ask for a donation. You may want to check with them whether they will guarantee to look after or rehome your pet even if it is old and sick. You will need to name the chosen organisation in your will along with the amount of any legacy. A potential advantage of leaving funds to a UK registered charity is that the legacy will be free of inheritance tax.
Nicola Waldman, says, “Including provision for pets in your will is often something that gets overlooked but if you want to ensure they go to a good home in the event of your death, its important you make your wishes clear.
“There are a number of options open to pet owners in terms of stipulating who should take care of pets, how they should be looked after and how money can be set aside for their upkeep. You should carefully consider the options and include the necessary provisions in your will. By doing this you can have peace of mind that your pets will be well looked after when you are no longer there to care for them yourself.”
Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen.
- For almost 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- Co-founder Patrick Allen is still at the helm of the firm he co-founded in 1977.
- In 2016 the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.