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How to provide for your pet when you are gone

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Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors explains how to provide for your pet when you are gone.

People sometimes prepare Wills simply because they wish to provide for their pet after their death where they have no close family. Wills dealing with pets require careful drafting, to deal with all eventualities and the costs of looking after a pet for its life after the owner’s death.

It is important to identify the pet properly. Do you want to provide for a named pet, or future pets as well? Is a working sheep dog included in a gift of ‘my pets’ – or is it a business asset? Should ‘my horses’ include racehorses in training?

Who should look after the animal? Is the animal likely to outlive the new owner, in which case what should happen on that person’s death?

The simplest way of dealing with a pet in your Will is to make an outright gift of the pet to its new owner, preferably including a substitute owner in case the original cannot or does not want to take care of the pet. Where the new owner is not familiar with the pet, detailed instructions about day-to-day care, diet, and veterinary requirements, can be left in a letter of wishes which can easily be changed from time to time.

Sometimes, there is no obvious candidate to care for the pet. In this situation, the owner may wish to leave the pet to their executors, perhaps with a cash gift, leaving it up to them to rehome the pet and provide the new owner with the cash. Preferences about the new home, such as requesting a home with other dogs, can be expressed in a letter of wishes. The letter of wishes can include a shortlist of candidates for the executors to choose to receive the pet.

Alternatively, the pet can be given to an animal welfare charity. The owner should direct whether the charity should find a suitable home for the pet or retain it. Charities often have schemes for after death arrangements, such as the RSPCA’s Home for Life scheme or the Dogs Trust Canine Care Card.

It can be difficult to estimate the future cost of caring for an animal. You can include an index-linked gift, which would increase with inflation over the years. It is sensible to review Wills every three to five years, and this allows you to deal with new pets as well as review cash gifts. Trust arrangements may be suitable where the costs are likely to be high, such as with a horse.

A cash gift is optional but it would encourage the new owner (especially a charity) to accept the pet and follow the deceased owner’s wishes. A cash gift can be conditional on the new owner promising to look after the animal. Do not assume that your executors can pay a new owner for the animal’s care if the Will contains no cash gift; the executors would have to obtain the agreement of the residuary beneficiaries of the Will to pay any money.

Contact a member of our Private Client Team at any of our offices, York, Selby, Malton, Pickering, for more information and advice.

Finally, if it is your intention that your pet be put down after your death, this should be expressly stated in the Will.