We all want the best for our pets and animals during our lifetime, but consideration also needs to be given to what happens beyond this. This is important from an animal welfare point of view, but also from an estate planning perspective as well. Pets are considered ‘personal chattel’, meaning that the changing ‘ownership’ of the animals after our death is considered a gift, rather than the appointment of a ‘guardian’ as would be the case with children.
So how can people deal with animals in their Will?
Gifts to Family & Friends
Gifting your animals and pets to family and friends is the most common option, as they are the most likely people to be willing to take care of the animals. You need to consider the financial and physical health of the recipient, as well as the possibility of the pet outliving the recipient. The arrangement needs to be discussed, as the beneficiary could simply reject the gift if consent is not obtained.
It is important to consider the financial burden that an animal or pet might place on your beneficiary. For example, the upkeep of a horse could be particularly demanding and could even place the recipient in financial distress. Earmarking money in your Will might be a way of solving the issue, but it’s important to note that the beneficiary is under no obligation to spend the money on the animal and could, for example, give away the pet and keep the money.
Rather than gifting money to the beneficiary, a trust could be set up as an alternative arrangement. An Animal Trust is one type of ‘Trust of Imperfect Obligation’, meaning that the beneficiary of the trust cannot enforce it. It is one of few permitted non-charitable purpose trusts and they cannot last any longer than 21 years, which should be sufficient for most pets.
Gifts to Charity
If there is nobody suitable to take guardianship of your pets after you die, then gifting them to charity might be the best option. You can register your pets with a charity during your lifetime and, after your death, the Executors then notify the charity who would take possession of the pet and rehome them. Some popular schemes are:
- Dogs Trust – Canine Care Card
- RSPCA – Home for Life
- Blue Cross – Pet Peace of Mind Service
- Cats Protection – Cat Guardians
- The Cinnamon Trust – Pet Profile
Although these schemes are free, a gift to the charity in a Will is always appreciated. The wording would need to be included in the Will relating to the scheme.
Doing nothing and hoping for the best for your furry friend is not likely to end up with the right result for anyone involved. Simple planning can make your pet’s life much more comfortable and certain, and you can also help those who are prepared to look after them in your absence.