Cara Grant, Private Client Partner, discusses the inclusion of provisions for pets within a Will.
With more than 3 million UK households having bought pets during the pandemic, four-legged friends have become important additions to many more families. Why not ensure that they are looked after by your Will, just like any other family member?
There are many things to think about when including a pet in a Will, such as:
- Identifying the pet (or pets).
It is important to specify whether the gift is in respect of a current pet or any pet(s) that may be owned at the time of death. If the gift is only to be in respect of a particular pet, the pet can be named. Including future pets will require more careful drafting. If a particular pet is identified, the gift will not automatically include other pets owned at the time of death.
Unless the animal is a working dog or an animal that is bred professionally, pets are considered to be ‘chattels’ (tangible goods). If there is a clause in a Will dealing with ‘chattels’, it is unlikely to be appropriate for a pet to be dealt with in the same way as jewellery, cars and paintings and so specific provision should be made for a pet.
- Who will look after the pet(s)?
It is important to consider who will look after the pet(s).
A Will can identify a particular individual to take care of a pet, and include financial provision for their upkeep. The likely life span of the pet should be considered, and whether successive beneficiaries should be identified if the pet may outlive the first-named beneficiary.
- What resources might be needed to maintain the pet(s)?
Pets are often expensive to maintain (and become more so as the pet gets older) and so thought should be given about how much financial provision they may need for their care for the rest of their life. It is important to ensure that financial provision is adequate, otherwise the beneficiary may be reluctant to accept the pet and/or may not look after it properly.
There are several ways to provide for the care of a pet in a Will:
- By making a gift of the pet and a sum of money.
The gift could be conditional on the beneficiary taking on the care of the pet, or undertaking to look after it. It might be wise to think about a substitute beneficiary in case the particular individual dies or is unable to accept the pet, in which case the gift would fail, causing uncertainty for the future care of the pet.
The gift of money could be index-linked so that it keeps up with inflation.
- By making a gift to executors with a letter of wishes
The pet and a cash sum could be left to executors with a letter of wishes setting out how the pet and cash are to be dealt with. The letter should identify who is to look after the pet and could include further details about the type of care that the pet will need. The letter can name substitute beneficiaries, or a list of people to consider, and explain what the executors should do if no one is prepared to look after the pet. There is no possibility of this gift failing and it is a flexible way of ensuring that a pet is looked after by the most appropriate person at the time of death.
- By gift to an animal welfare charity
The pet and a cash sum could be left to an animal welfare charity with a request that the charity rehomes the pet. However, there are no conditions to be satisfied by the charity and there are no guarantees about how the cash will be used, or even if the charity will rehome the pet.
- By trust fund
A Will can include a cash fund for trustees to use for the care of a pet for up to 21 years (until the death of the pet, or the last surviving pet). A letter of wishes sets out how the pet is to be cared for. The Will specifies who inherits any surplus cash once the pet’s needs have been met. However, this type of trust may not be appropriate for long-living pets (such as tortoises!).
Another option is for a pet to be included in a discretionary trust with a letter of wishes. This gives trustees flexibility to decide who should receive and care for the pet in a similar way to a gift to executors with a letter of wishes, but with access to additional funds in the estate.
Having a professionally drafted will ensures that your family will be looked after when you die – why not ensure that it includes four-legged (or even winged!) family members?