Around 1 in 2 households own a pet : which means there are about 20,000 million pets in the UK including eight million cats and eight and a half million dogs. But what happens to your pets when you die? Every year thousands die without making proper provision for their canine and feline friends and without adequate plans in place, many will not stay within the family. Fortunately, making provision is easy to do in your Will.
For the purpose of your Will, your pet is considered to be personal property. The exception to this is if the pet is a working animal, in which case they might be a business asset.
You can’t therefore leave money directly to your pet – but you can nominate someone to look after them and leave a gift to that person to cover the associated expenses.
In addition to naming who should look after your pet, you can also write a letter of wishes, giving the person who will be caring for your pet all the information they need to know to be your pet’s carer. Your letter of wishes has two main purposes: first, it provides your pet’s carer with vital information such as dietary needs and medical issues, and second, it allows you to specify how you’d like your pet to be cared for. The letter can also contain important information such as microchip ID number, age and breed.
An alternative to nominating a friend or relative as your pet’s carer is to make arrangements with a pet charity. For example, the Cinnamon Trust provides long term care for pets whose owners have died or moved to residential accommodation which will not accept pets. Arrangements are made between owners and the Trust well in advance, so owners have peace of mind in the knowledge that their beloved companion will have a safe and happy future. It is important that your Executors are aware of the arrangements.
Another option is to carry a Canine Care Card, a scheme run by the Dogs Trust who pledge to take care of your dogs if you pass away before they do. If you have a Canine Care Card, this allows the Trust to arrange to bring your dog/s to their nearest rehoming centre. Upon arrival they will be examined by the Trust’s expert vet and cared for by their dedicated, trained staff. The Trust pledges to find your dog new owners whose lifestyle and experience match their needs. But if for any reason your dog cannot be rehomed, you have peace of mind that the Dogs Trust never puts down a healthy dog and will look after them for the rest of their lives.
If you decide to plan for your pet’s future using your Will, there are a few important considerations.
Firstly, you need to adequately identify your pet. If you only have one pet, you might think that the simplest way may be to refer to them by name! If, however, you have a number of similar animals and you are leaving them to different people, you will need to include more specifics to help your Executors understand which animal you are gifting.
Keep in mind that if you name a particular pet but no longer own it when you die, the gift will fail – even if you have acquired another similar animal before you die. One way to get around this issue is to include a substitute clause such as “any other dog I own at my death”.
Next, you need to decide who will care for your pet – and it makes sense to speak to the person first. Consider the life expectancy of your pet and that of the proposed carer – it may be better to leave a pet with a long life expectancy to a younger carer.
Consider the possibility that even if the person agrees to care for your pet now, they may not be willing or able at the time of your death. You may therefore want to include substitute beneficiaries. You can require that an undertaking to care for your pet is given as a condition of the beneficiary receiving any cash gift you are leaving for the pet’s upkeep.
If you can’t decide who should take care of your pet now, an alternative is to gift your pet to your Executors along with a cash sum and write a letter of wishes indicating what the money is for and how you’d like them to choose a carer. Note that if the cash sum you have left is inadequate, your Executors have no power to make a payment from your estate for the care of your pets unless you have given them discretionary powers over the residuary estate, or unless the beneficiaries of the residuary estate agree to the payment. It is therefore important to ensure you leave a sufficient sum for your pet’s upkeep.
If you plan on leaving an absolute cash gift to cover the expenses of caring for your pet, you need to work out the likely cost that will be incurred during their lifetime. The true costs are typically underestimated – for example, according to research by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) you’ll spend a staggering £21,000 to £33,000 on your dog during their lifetime, depending on size and breed. Dogs generally live for 10 – 13 years, so the outgoings could be £2,000 or more a year. Annual costs will depend on the age of your pet – older pets typically may have higher expenses for medication and vet bills, although pet insurance may be an option.
If you leave an absolute cash gift, keep in mind the effect of inflation. You may want to increase the gift – for example in line with the Retail Price Index – so that it maintains its value in comparison to the cost of living.
It is important that the gift you leave is adequate – otherwise, you may find that your chosen beneficiary is unwilling to accept the responsibility of caring for your pet, or may not follow the instructions in your letter of wishes.
Rather than making an absolute gift for the costs of caring for your pet, you could create a trust for your pet’s maintenance. Whilst generally the law does not allow trusts to be created where there are no beneficiaries to enforce them, there is an exception for trusts created with the purpose of providing for the maintenance of animals. The trust is known as a “trust of imperfect obligation” because the objects of the trust – your cat, dog or other pet – will not be able to bring proceedings to compel its performance.
The law requires that the trust is limited to a period of 21 years. If there is a possibility that your pet may survive beyond 21 years from the date of your death, the trust is unlikely to be suitable.
Practically, these trusts can be problematic – for example, the question may arise of how the trustees’ expenses should be met if there is insufficient funds in the trust; or how a trustee should be replaced if they are (or become) unable or unwilling to act.
A perhaps preferable solution may be to include your pet in a discretionary trust of your residuary estate. This would put the trustees in a similar position to your Executors, had you left the pet to them – they can decide who should care for the pet, with the help of any letter of wishes you have drafted. However, they would also have the benefit of access to funds in the residuary estate. Such trusts would not be solely for the benefit of your pet so many of the practical problems that occur with a 21 year trust will not arise.
If you decide on the latter option, it is important to ensure that your pet has not already been gifted as personal property elsewhere in your Will – otherwise, they will not fall into your residuary estate.
If you’ve already made your Will, it is possible to add in provisions relating to your pet using a ‘Codicil’. This is a simple document that needs to be signed and witnessed in the same way as a Will. It allows you to make amendments to your existing Will instead of drawing up a completely new one.
However, we would only recommend using a Codicil for small, simple changes – and we always recommend that you review your Will every few years anyway, to take into account changes in personal circumstances, tax rules and legislation. Why not use this as the perfect opportunity to review your Will with one of our expert team? There’s no charge for our one hour free appointments and we can usually see you at our offices or in the comfort of your own home. Fill out the form below to receive our completely free Wills information pack, without obligation.