One occasionally hears stories of a wealthy pet owner leaving a small fortune “to their pets” who, it is reported, then find themselves living a life of luxury with a six figure income.
Thu 15 Dec 2016
One occasionally hears stories of a wealthy pet owner leaving a small fortune “to their pets” who, it is reported, then find themselves living a life of luxury with a six figure income. While these are extreme cases it is important to consider what happens to your pets after you die.
In many cases the welfare of a pet who has provided companionship and comfort to someone in the years leading up to their death is as important (if not more so) than who receives property from an estate. Although it may be tempting, money cannot be left to an animal and it is important to think carefully what will happen after your death.
It may be possible to find a friend or family member who will care for a pet and re-home it and give it the love and care that you provided during your lifetime. As with many pet owners such a person may take on this responsibility because of their love of animals and their love and friendship for you. However, as we all know there is a cost to pet ownership and you cannot require someone to take on a potentially costly obligation for food, shelter and vets bills. If the person you nominate is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility then your executors have to make a difficult decision – if they cannot find an alternative person or organisation to take on the task then your pet may have to be put to sleep.
Whilst you cannot impose an obligation on anyone it is possible to make a gift to someone conditional on their taking on a responsibility and this is often the way to proceed. Therefore, you could leave a gift to a friend, relative or charity “provided they care for any animals living with me at the date of my death”. If the gift is substantial enough then there is some incentive to take on the responsibility. It can be difficult to police so you need to choose someone who will not be swayed entirely by money but it does avoid the situation of someone being unable to take on a responsibility solely because of a lack of funds.
In many cases, you may find it easier to find a charity which will take on re-homing for you. It is always sensible to talk to such an organisation well in advance and see how they operate. Some charities will always seek to care for a healthy animal whatever the circumstances and others will ask to be remembered in a will to help to pay for the work of the charity and this may be a condition of taking on the task.
Some owners cannot bear the thought of their pet having to settle into a new home after a lifetime of living with them and will decide that the most humane thing is to put the animal to sleep. As with the other suggestions made in this article this should be specified so that those you leave behind can act according to your wishes. It is never easy dealing with things after a death but clearly no animal should be left uncared for and making your wishes clear will prevent uncertainty and further distress to a much loved pet.
Although in the case of domestic pets their welfare is paramount and the steps outlined will be sufficient some animals may have other requirements. For example, there is strict regulation of some farm animals and a person keeping sheep would need to make arrangements for these animals swiftly as there will be movement restrictions which may need to be complied with.
The message is clear – if you have a pet you need to prepare for their future after you have gone and this can be done by early preparation. You need to think what you want to do and speak to the person or organisation who you would like to take on the task. It is sensible to mention this in your will as it is often the first place that your executors or family will look for guidance after your death. It is more likely that your wishes will be observed if you do not make the job one with a financial burden attached but what you decide to do will depend on the person or organisation you choose to help. Whilst we may not be creating millionaire cats or dogs thoughtful and early preparation will mean that your pet has a secure future even after your death.
Pet Owners Association would recommend that you seek the advice of a solicitor for your particular circumstance when considering any estate planning, wills or post death wishes.
Article by: Clarke Willmott LLP
Clarke Willmott LLP is a national law firm with roots in the South West, serving regional, national and international businesses and private clients from our offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Taunton, Southampton and London.