In the lead up to Christmas, we are reminded of the famous Dogs Trust slogan that ‘a Dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. A pet’s life may of course last longer than its owner, particularly if they own animals with long lifespans such as certain types of parrot. It is important therefore that pet owners consider what would happen to their pets after they have died.
A pet is actually considered as a personal chattel and like any other chattel they can be gifted by a will. There are a number of options that a pet owner could consider in their will.
A specific gift of their pet is the most common option as there are usually family members or friends who would be willing to look after the pet. Substitutional gifts can also be considered if the original beneficiary predeceases or no longer wishes to look after the pet.
The ongoing costs of the animal should also be considered. This would vary depending on the animal itself, a gift of a horse for example could be quite onerous for the beneficiary. A money gift that passes with the animal could also be considered as a way to ease the financial burden. The recipient of the gift is however under no obligation to use the money for the pet.
An alternate arrangement rather than leaving a money gift to the beneficiary could be to include a trust for the obligation of the pet. A trust for the maintenance of particular animals is what is known as a Trust of Imperfect Obligation (as the beneficiary of the trust cannot themselves enforce it) and is one of the few permitted non-charitable purpose trusts. These trusts cannot last any longer than 21 years which should be sufficient for most pets.
If such a trust is included in the will, the client should be made aware that there would be additional testamentary expenses incurred to set up the trust after death and there may be some ongoing costs to administer the trust.
Gift to Trustees
A person may also consider gifting their pets to their trustees with the wish that the trustees distribute the pets according to a letter of wishes. This would allow them some flexibility to change their beneficiaries easily as they see fit without needing to rewrite the will entirely.
Gift to Charity
If the client does not know anyone suitable to take on their pets after they die, they could also consider gifting their pets to charity. A number of animal charities operate schemes so that a person may register their pets with the charity during lifetime. After their death, the executors would notify the charity who would take possession of the pets and aim to suitably rehome the animal. Links to notable schemes are included below.
- RSPCA’s Home for Life: https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/care/homeforlife
- Dogs Trust Canine Care Card: https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/get-involved/wills-legacies/canine-care-card/
- Cats Protection Cat Guardians: https://www.cats.org.uk/get-involved/support-us/cat-guardians
These schemes are free, but the client could also consider a gift to the charity in their will in appreciation.