Providing for a pet in your Will

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The factors to consider when thinking about providing for your pet under your Will

Pets do not have a distinct legal personality and are technically belongings, but they sit in their own category between possessions and dependants and need to be considered carefully. This means that you need to leave instructions about them in your Will, and any financial provision you want to make for them cannot be a gift to the pet.

Livestock or pet?

There is a distinction between pets and livestock for the purpose of a Will. You might, for example, have two pigs or llamas that you keep as pets, which would be treated as any other pet would in your Will. However, if you have, for example, a rolling stock of 20 pigs that are used for breeding, or sold for their meat, this would likely be considered livestock and a business asset. Leaving livestock as a business asset under your Will should be dealt with very differently and you should seek specific advice on this point to consider any pre-existing business agreements, as well as the most tax effective options for disposal on your death.

Leaving instructions about a pet in your Will

First, you will need to consider what you wish to happen to your pet. The most straightforward way is to leave your pet directly in the care of another person. This could be an existing owner of the pet, such as your partner or children, or it could be another family member or friend who does not currently share ownership of your pet. As with any gift in your Will, you can leave your pets to whomever you wish and they do not need to know, or pre-approve, your intentions. However, a beneficiary of your Will is not obliged to accept their gift and it can, therefore, be worth checking in advance that they are happy to take on responsibility for your pet.

Alternatively, you may prefer to leave your pet to a person or organisation for them to find the pet a suitable new home. This could be an animal charity, a family member, a trusted friend, or an executor, for example. You can state your wishes in regard to rehoming, but you should bear in mind that these would not be legally binding and the person or organisation would be ultimately responsible for deciding where your pet should end up going.

At the time of your death, it is possible that an individual may not be best placed to take on the responsibility of rehoming your pet, (for example, if ill or in unsuitable housing), and you should also consider the possibility that they may decide to pass the responsibility on by involving an animal charity.  

A letter of wishes left with your Will can be useful to give guidance to your executors as to what your intentions are. Whilst not legally binding upon them it will help them understand what your wishes were.

In the case of a larger animal, for example, a horse, it may be that they can be sold by the estate and the sale proceeds paid to your beneficiaries. Your executors will have the authority to sell the pet, and it can be useful to leave a separate letter of wishes to guide your executors as to how, where, when, and to whom you would like the pet to be sold.

A professional can help you to decide the best approach for your circumstances.

Practical factors to consider

If your pet requires unusual care, or extensive facilities or land, this may need extra consideration when it comes to deciding who the best person is to care for your pet.

If you are leaving your pet to a charity to be rehomed, you should consider any specific wishes you might have about the type of home you would like them to go to and any particular way in which you would like them to be cared for. If you have more than one pet, you might also wish to request that they are not separated. As well as a Will, as mentioned above, a solicitor can draft a detailed letter of wishes for you so that your executor, and the person or charity to whom the pet is left, is aware of your wishes.

Financial considerations

If you opt to leave your pet to an existing owner, it is less likely that they would require a pot of money for your pet’s upkeep. However, another individual might need some financial assistance in this regard.

Whilst an animal charity is unlikely to need funds specifically for your individual pet, as they will already have their own general funding, a monetary gift to them in recognition of the fact that you are leaving your pet in their care might be appropriate.

Whilst you cannot leave money to a pet, you can leave money to the person who will become responsible for looking after your pet. Any such gift should be by way of a bare trust, to allow the person or charity to use the funds for your pet’s benefit, including food, vet bills, and other such essential costs.

You should think about an appropriate level of funds, as well as how flexible you want to be with the terms under which it can be spent, including any additional wishes you would like known. Any money left in a bare trust for your pet’s upkeep will need to include a provision about what would happen to any remaining funds if your pet is no longer in need of the trust money. You might want this to revert to your family or friends, or you might want it to be passed to a charity of your choosing.

How we can help

Pets must be considered carefully within a Will, and a well-drafted Will, prepared by an expert, will ensure that all eventualities are covered.

For further information, please contact Sally Power in the Wills, Trusts and Probate team on 01832 273506 or email [email protected].

Sally Power TEP, Partner

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