Caring for your pet when you've gone

August 2015

Pets and other animals are of great importance to most of us at some point in our lives. We may have a beloved cat or dog, or be fortunate enough to own a horse. Given the importance of the relationships we build with our animals, it is not surprising that we worry about what might happen to them if we die. This is particularly so for those of us who share our lives with our pets rather than with a life partner, family or friends.

For some of us, the decision is easy, with relatives or friends who have already volunteered to, for example, care for the dog but what if that simply isn’t possible? How do you make sure that your animal is cared for if you are no longer here?

There are options that you might choose to take for the future care of your pet, setting out your wishes in a will, rather than simply leaving the end result to chance. This allows you to carefully select and consider the factors that are important to you in the future care of your companion and to feel confident in having made the right choices.

The main option is to leave the pet, in your will, to a named person or organisation, together with a legacy (a set sum of money) to help pay for the future care of your pet. The important thing here is to realise that you cannot leave the money to the pet, as a gift like this would be invalid.

So it is usual to leave the money to the person or organisation, but only if they agree to take care of the pet, usually for as long as necessary, or, generally in the case with an organisation, until it is successfully rehomed. One problem with a legacy is that, particularly as your pet reaches old age, the costs of care might be larger than the money paid from your estate. This means that the person or organisation must be very sure that they want to take on the responsibility, so it is best to check with them first.

In other cases, a trust might be considered. Here, a sum of money is left to trustees to look after. They are required to spend the money to care for the pet for the remainder of its lifetime, paying for living expenses, veterinary treatment and so on. After the pet dies, the remaining funds are distributed to one or more specified people or organisations, for example a charity. Arrangements like this can work well if the lifespan of the pet is likely to be long.

However, trusts need to be carefully prepared, can be complicated to administer and, depending on the value of the trust fund, taxation and other costs may arise. This is why wills are more often prepared to include a legacy than a trust.

The important thing is to think now about what should happen when you die and not leave it to chance, to ensure that your pets and animals are properly and sensitively cared for if they lose you.

If you require any further advice or assistance in relation to the care of your animal, or have any other queries about your will or related issues, please contact our Wills and Probate Team at Parrott and Coales LLP of 14 Bourbon Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20 2RS or call  01296 318500