Paws for thought

The law designates that a pet is construed as property. This distinction prevents anyone from naming a pet as a beneficiary of their will. Alternatively bequeathing an allocated sum can be arranged, to provide for the care of that pet during its lifetime, as property cannot be inherited by property (i.e. money to a pet). UK law considers pets unable to hold title to other property.

There are a few options to consider when leaving a pet and a sum of money for their care. This can be allocated to:

  • An animal charity, of whom can be asked to find the pet an appropriate home (money gifted is free from IHT)
  • The executors, who can be given instructions as to the testators’ request as to whom they would desire to look after the pet
  • A legatee with the condition that the legatee is required to look after the pet in order to receive the money, or
  • Creating a trust limited to 21 years leaving funds to trustees to be used for the care of the animal during its lifetime

The RSPCA has confirmed that it comes across problems involving pets and legacies regularly, and that in every case where the charity has been left a pet to re-home; it has so far been successful. Anyone wanting advice on drawing up specific clauses involving the RSPCA undertaking care of an animal are advised to contact the dedicated RSPCA’s Legacy Department for more information.

There are other organisations that would take on the responsibility of looking after a pet if there are no other options available. Dogs Trust and the Cinnamon Trust are examples of such. Dogs Trust was founded in 1891 and says they cared for over 17,000 dogs last year. The Cinnamon Trust is a charitable organisation founded by Mrs Averil Jarvis in 1985, to support the elderly with pets.

Figures show there are currently around 24 million pets in the UK – double the number of pensioners (based on an estimated 12 million people over 65 years of age). In 2014 it is estimated that 13 million (46%) of households have pets (ratio of 9 million dogs and 7.9 million cats).

With those figures in mind, it is inevitable that individuals would wish to make provision for their beloved pets in preparation for the future. Asking a family member or friend to look after your four legged friend would no doubt be the preferred option, however this is not always an available possibility. Is this something you deal with on a regular basis in terms of clients requesting specific advice tailored to needs of their pets?

As a pet owner, there is a responsibility to provide the animal with food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and of course, love. To ensure that a beloved pet will continue to receive this care, should the unexpected happen, it’s critical to plan ahead. Does your practice provide advice and guidance to clients with pets?

Further options would be to include a purpose trust for pets or a humane euthanasia clause within a will.

How does your practice support clients with pets?

Please let us know your views by leaving a comment below.

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