PDSA’s 2023 study confirmed that 53% of UK adults own a pet. But what happens to your pets when you die?

While it is not a legal requirement to include your pets in your will, it is important that they are included to ensure that your wishes are carried out and they are well cared for after your death. Despite what many owners think, the law treats pets as property; an owned possession similar to a house, car, or piece of furniture. Even though your pets are part of the family, legally there is no provision to leave gifts to your pets in your will.

As pets are considered property, you cannot leave money directly to your pets in your will. The following options are available to you instead:

  1. To leave your pets to a trusted beneficiary and then in turn leave money to that beneficiary to care for your pets. You should consider how long your pets might live and whether the beneficiary is able to care for them. It’s important to note that there is a possibility that the money bequeathed to the beneficiary will not be spent on the living costs of the animal, although hopefully the beneficiary will carry out your wishes if it is someone who you trust.
  2. To leave the decision as to who will care for your pets entirely to the executor of your will, and as part of this, prepare a Letter of Wishes to sit alongside your will. This would enable you to state your wishes for your pets’ care and any specific needs they may have. This route will enable you to make changes easily in the future, without the need to rewrite or alter your original will. It is important to note however that your Letter of Wishes is not legally binding but will hopefully act as useful guidance.
    Fun fact:

    Dusty Springfield, a British singer, who died in 1999 left very specific wishes for her thirteen-year old cat, Nicholas. These included instructions that her nightgown was to be placed in his bed, her vocal recordings were to be played to him while he slept at night, and he was to have a strict diet of baby food from America.

  3. Gifting your pet to an animal charity. Several animal charities promise to look after and find a new home for your pet following your death. One example is the RSPCA which offers a home for life for animals bequeathed to them in a will. Likewise, Dogs Trust is another charity that offers a canine care card which guarantees care and re-homing of your dog in the event of your death.You may also consider making a charitable donation to your chosen charity to help care for your pets. Donations that you make to charitable organisations could also help reduce your estate’s inheritance tax bill (this will depend on the circumstances at the time).
  4. Set up a discretionary trust in your will or during your lifetime. The beneficiary of your pet in the event of your death could also be a beneficiary of the discretionary trust. The trustees of the trust would dictate when and how the beneficiary is to receive funds in line with your wishes. This may provide peace of mind that the money for the care of your pet would be used as you intended.
  5. While we do not advocate for euthanising healthy pets, it is not illegal. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the principal law relating to animal welfare, but it does not prohibit the euthanasia of healthy pets. You can therefore stipulate in your will that your healthy pets are to be humanely euthanised in the event of your death. You may consider this option if you think that it is likely that your pets will suffer inhumane treatment following your death. There could be problems finding a veterinary surgeon who will euthanise your pet as veterinary surgeons are not obliged to kill a healthy animal unless required to do so under statutory powers, such as if it were a dangerous dog. You may also wish to consider who is going to pay for any associated costs and specify this is your will.

If you have not yet considered who will care for your pets in the event of your death, our dedicated private client team are happy to help, talk you through the process and your options.

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Published: 18th June 2024
Area: For the individual

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Lesley works closely with her clients to assist and guide in all aspects of complex estate planning and asset protection including trust and estate administration after death, Wills and Powers of Attorney.

Lesley helps families navigate their way through complex succession and tax landscapes involving trusts and estate administrations after death. Working closely with succeeding generations to secure the best outcome for all, Lesley can help find the most tax efficient outcome while ensuring family cohesion is maintained.

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