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Can I leave my estate to my pet when I die?

The Law

A number of our clients are keen to ensure their beloved pets are cared for in the event of the client pre-deceasing the pet.  Unfortunately leaving money directly to a pet, is not possible. However, there are options as to leaving part of the estate or money to provide for the care of a pet. In a legal Will, money and property can only be left to individuals, companies, charities, or a combination of the same. In the eyes of the law, any pets living at your death are considered as an asset (property) of the estate and therefore an asset cannot also be a beneficiary of the same estate. If a will included a clause where there is a gift to a pet, then this gift would fail and in turn fall due as part of the residue of the estate and pass in accordance with this clause instead.

Even though it is not possible to leave part of an estate to a pet, there are alternatives which testators could consider when preparing a new will. The most common and sensible method is to leave money in a trust which can in turn be used for the care of the pet. If the testator creates a trust, there are certain requirements in order for it to be a legal and valid trust. The Testator will need to appoint an individual or individuals to be appointed to have the responsibility of managing the funds within the trust. These appointees will be known as the Trustees and will therefore have the responsibility of ensuring the money is kept safe and paying out amounts in order to fund the care of any pet in a way in which they see fit. When creating a trust with this main purpose, Testators may see it beneficial to also prepare a letter of wishes to sit alongside their Will which allows them to set out their intentions as to how the trust fund is spent and how they wish their pet will be taken care of. The letter if not binding on the trustees but can offer guidance as to how the Testator would like the pet cared for.

It is down to the individual how much they wish to leave in the trust for the care of their pets, but it is recommended to leave a reasonable but not excessive amount. This is because if someone was to leave a large sum of money which clearly would not all get used, then there will be money left over in the trust fund which will have to be disposed of but could be accounted for with inclusion of provision for a backup beneficiary- for example leaving the left over sum to a charity after the pet passes away.

Alternatively, a pet could be provided for by the will including a specific gift to a named individual alongside a gift of money to the nominated individual who will be taking care of the said pet. It may be wise to discuss with the named individual if they are willing to take on the care of your pet in the event of your death.

Another thing which an individual should consider when thinking about pets is to specify in the will whom they leave the pet to, given the law sees them as property. This could be a family, friend, or even a charity. This way they know exactly where their pet will be going and will hopefully be treated in a way they wish for them to be cared for.  On occasion people choose to include a clause which gives a lump sum to the person whom is to take on the care of their pets for them after their death, as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for taking on the responsibility. This sum of money can be separate to the trust and be left as a gift of money of a sum which they see fit.

It is always advised that before creating the will, to speak to the person(s) who you wish to have the responsibility to take care of the pets after the Testators passing to ensure they are happy to do so and are aware of the plans.

A further provision which can be made within a will is to state ‘any pets living at the date of my death’ so that it includes any future pets an individual may have but does not know of at the time of creating the will.

In simple terms it is therefore not possible for pets to be named personally as beneficiaries within a will but there are options for a person to incorporate them into the will and provide funds for their care.

If you need help writing a will and ensuring funds are available to care for your pets please do not hesitate to contact Adcocks today, mw@adcocks.com or kd@Adcocks.com or call 01543 442100.

 

(Photo of our Head of Private Client Kerry Davies lovely Cocker Spaniel Tyler )

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