It is being reported that famous animal lover, Betty White, has left the majority of her $75 million estate to her pets.
Whilst you may not have $75 million, your pets are part of your family so understandably, you want to ensure that they are look after should anything happen to you.
There are clear benefits to having a plan for your four-legged friend. Firstly, you will have the peace of mind that your beloved pet will be well cared for after your death. Secondly, you know who will be providing that care. Thirdly, having a plan will minimise the disruption and distress for your pet after your death.
Unfortunately, under English Law, pets are classed as property (just like a car or a ring!) so you can’t leave money directly to Spot or Whiskers in your Will. However, there are a few things you can do to ensure that your furbaby continues to live in luxury after you’re gone.
Option One: Leaving Money in a Trust
You can leave money in trust for the purpose of caring for your pets.
You will need to appoint a specific person (or people) to look after the money for them, and this person would be able to use the money to care for your pet in line with your wishes. This person could be a friend or relative.
To help them understand your pets likes and dislikes, you could also leave a Letter of Wishes setting out how you’d like your pet to be taken care of, and how the money should be spent for their benefit.
It is also worth outlining what should happen to any left over money should go if not all of it is spent on your pet. Perhaps it could be left to an animal charity?
Option Two: Leave a money to Someone to Look After Your Pet
This is the most popular option. It is best for when you have a trusted family member or friend who you know would be happy to take care of your animals after you die. You can even name a backup person to take care of your pets, in case your first choice is no longer willing or able to act.
You can leave the person accepting your pets a cash gift. The gift often has a two purposes. Firstly, the gift can be used to cover the added expenses of your pet and secondly, to act as a thank you. The cash gift will only be made on the basis the person agrees to take on your pet after your death. This will need to be drafted as a condition of the gift into the Will.
Option Three: Charity
If you do not know anyone that would be willing to take in your animals, you can request that they are looked after or rehomed by a named animal charity.
Different charities have different policies in place, so it is important to research these thoroughly. For example, you may want the reassurance that your companions will be cared for by the charity even if it is not possible to have them rehomed.
We usually recommend The Cinnamon Trust as they specialise in providing long term care for pets whose owners have died.
What do you need to think about?
Before your draft your Will, we recommend considering the following points:
1 – Who would be willing to look after your pets?
If you have someone in mind, it is important to speak to that person and make sure they are happy to be named in the Will. You do not want the gift of your pet to come as a surprise!
2 – Do you want to leave that person a gift for caring for your pet?
How much would you like to leave? You might want to think about the costs incurred in looking after your pets- how much does their food, grooming and insurance cost per year?
3 – Do you want your Will to deal with your current pet only or all future pets as well?
To ensure you don’t have to update your Will every time you get a new pet, it can be a good idea to word your Will in a way that covers any pets you own at the date of your death.
4 – If there are no family members or friends able to look after your pets, do you have other wishes for them?
For example, rehoming via a chosen charity. Maybe do some research on local charities to see where would be best for your animals.
5- Important Information
Do your Pets have any special dietary requirements? Any little quirks that would be useful for the beneficiary to know? Does little Alfie only like to eat organic, raw dog food!? This information would be useful to note in a Letter of Wishes to the person who will be looking after your pet.
6- Microchip Information
If your pet has a microchip, make a note of the details and keep a copy of the information with your Will or in your Letter of Wishes so that the new owners can update the chips information.
What if you don't have a Will?
If you have a will, but it doesn’t mention
your pet, then your pets will go to your main beneficiary. This person may not want this responsibility or be best suited to look after your pets.
If you don’t have a will at all when you die, then your pets included are subject to “intestacy” laws. This typically means that a local probate court will appoint someone as the executor of your estate. That person will be responsible for deciding what happens to your pet.
Unfortunately in these circumstances, pets are often put in shelters instead of given to family or friends. That’s why it’s important for you to protect your pet in your will.
If you would like to talk to us about leaving something for your pampered pooch in your Will, please get in touch.