World Animal Day is an international day of action for animal rights and welfare celebrated annually on 4th October. As a nation of animal lovers, we always want to make sure our pets are looked after. Whilst not a common request, we do get asked to advise on the upkeep of an animal after the owner has died. The decision on who will look after a much-loved pet can be a difficult and heart wrenching one.
How can I leave a gift for my pet?
Animals do not have legal capacity to own property, so gifts cannot be left to them directly in a Will. But there are a few options to choose from:
- Leave the animal and a cash sum to the executors with a request that they deal with both in accordance with an expression of wishes; or
- Leave the animal and a cash sum to a named individual who must undertake to care for the animal. In case they can’t or won’t commit to their care, include a gift over to another beneficiary, either an individual or a charity, on the same terms; or
- Leave the animal and a cash sum to an appropriate animal charity asking them to find a suitable home for the animal; and
- Create a trust limited to 21 years leaving funds to trustees to be used for the care of the animal and ultimate beneficiaries who will inherit when the animal dies.
How much should I leave for the care?
This depends on the animal, the care needed and its life expectancy. A horse will cost more to care for than a hamster and will probably live longer!
The Will of billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley left $12m (£8m) in trust for her dog, Trouble. Whilst Trouble’s inheritance was later cut to just $2m (£1.2m) by a judge, the dog still needed to go into hiding amid death and kidnap threats.
What happens if there is nobody able or willing to care for the animal?
It is sensible to have a substitute beneficiary should the original beneficiary be unable or unwilling to care for the animal. You may want to consider having an animal charity as the ultimate beneficiary who would look after the animal.
Is there anything I should consider?
If you are asking an individual to take on the animal, talk to them first to see if they are happy to take on the responsibility. You may also wish to set out in a letter of wishes details of the care that is needed.
You may want to think carefully before you ask an elderly person to look after a puppy. Consider the life expectancy of the animal, its exercise needs, how much space it might need etc.
It is important to be clear about which animal you are thinking about when you make the Will e.g. should the gift apply only to your current pet or should it cover future pets. Careful drafting is required to ensure the Will is future-proofed for any changes.
And finally …
A cat comes to the aid of a claimant in a disputed estate. The recent case of Re Bunt deceased resulted in a woman winning a £2m inheritance claim after a solicitor’s cat knocked over a pile of papers to reveal the Will of her late brother, which had been missing for two decades.
How can Greenwoods GRM help you?
We can ensure your Will makes adequate provision for your much-loved family pet. Greenwoods GRM LLP can assist with all aspects of your succession planning including your personal affairs, corporate matters and employment aspects. Please do get in touch to start the conversation.