Paws for Thought: Don’t leave your pets out of your estate planning!

When it comes to estate planning we talk a lot about PETs, but not often about pets (of the furry, fluffy and feathery variety). Most pet owners will want to ensure that their pets continue to be cared for after their death, so let’s look at what we need to consider.

While many animal lovers consider Rover a member of the family rather than a possession, when it comes to succession pets are actually considered a personal chattel. Like any other personal chattel, pets can be specifically gifted in a will.

The testator should be asked to consider who they wish to look after their animals, whether they ought to make financial provision for the care of the animal, as well as the particular needs of their pets as this could impact who is best to care for them. For example, certain types of parrot have a life expectancy of around 60 years so gifting them to an elderly beneficiary may be unwise.

The upkeep of an animal can be very expensive. This can range from the cost of feeding and grooming up to expensive vet bills and stabling (in the case of horses). This can be off-putting for a potential beneficiary. The testator may want to consider how to alleviate any financial burden on a beneficiary.

Financial provision could be made by way of a simple gift of money to the beneficiary conditional upon them taking on the care of the animal. Again, the testator should consider the animals needs and associated upkeep costs when structuring such a gift.

A perhaps lesser known alternative would be to create a special type of trust for the upkeep of the animal. This is known as a ‘trust of imperfect obligation’ as the object of the trust cannot enforce it (while compelling, Rover’s puppy dog eyes won’t help him actually enforce the trust). This type of trust may only last for up to 21 years. A period that should be sufficient for most common household pets.

Whatever option they choose, the testator should also be encouraged to write a letter of wishes to provide their beneficiary with details on how their pets should be cared for.

If there is no one suitable to take on the care of the animals consider leaving the animals to the care of a charity instead. The RSPCA run a well known ‘home for life’ scheme that a person may register their animals with during lifetime. The executors would notify the RSPCA of the owner’s death, and the charity will aim to suitably rehome the animal. This gives the testator the peace of mind that their animals will be cared for after their death.

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The Society of Will Writers is a non-profit making self-regulatory organisation whose primary objectives are the advancement, education and ethical standards within the will writing profession.

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