As we approach National Dog Day on August 26, pet owners should consider making provision for their companion animals after they die – to avoid problems later on.
Our pets can live a long time. Tortoises can live for up to 150 years. Some parrot species reach 50, and domestic dogs and cats commonly make it to 20. But many animal lovers fail to plan for their pets’ future after they’re gone.
Natalie Palmer, Director of Latimer Hinks, offers the following useful advice:
In the UK, It’s not possible to set up a trust for a pet
Periodically, news will break of somebody, somewhere, leaving a huge sum of money to one of their pets. While some may consider such bequests a solution to the problem, in reality in the UK, it is not actually possible to leave money to pets.
A pet may be part of the family but legally they are considered to be belongings. As such, it is not possible to set up a trust fund solely to provide for their ongoing care.
Upon your death, there are no legal safeguards compelling anyone to look after your pet
Some people consider that leaving their pet to a friend or relative guarantees its long-term wellbeing but actually, there’s no legal obligation for them to take over the duties after you die, even though they might have agreed to do it.
So, how do we go about securing the future care of our beloved pets?
One option is to make a prior arrangement with somebody trusted to look after your pet and in your Will, leave a legacy to that individual with the request that it is used for the purposes of maintaining the pet. The problem is, it is up to the individual whether or not they use the legacy for the purposes you intended.
Another option might be to leave money in trust and ask the Trustees to make money available during your pet’s lifetime to whoever is looking after your pet (again with a request that the funds are used to look after the pet during its lifetime). This way Trustees can control funds and try to ensure (as far as possible) they are used to benefit your pet.
After the pet’s death you would need to leave instructions as to who is to inherit any funds still contained in the trust (perhaps an animal charity or the person who has looked after your pet during their lifetime). Setting up a trust to benefit your pet could put your mind at ease.
A third option might be to leave money to charity. Some charities offer to rehome pets, where possible, or to take them into special sanctuaries. In general, these wishes should be detailed in a will.
In the UK, people are still failing to write wills – estimates suggest around two thirds of us still don’t have one. Regardless of the impact on the family in financial terms, those dying intestate (without a will) risk uncertainty for their pets specifically in the context of ownership and future responsibility.
Leaving pets behind doesn’t have to be a worry but it does need to be given some thought. Planning is key.