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Can I provide for my pet in my Will?

Before the iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died, he put plans in place to make sure his cat Choupette would be well looked after when he was gone.

Choupette, who has her own Instagram account and reportedly eats only from the finest china, will undoubtedly, thanks to her owner’s forward planning, live out the rest of her days in the comfort to which she has become accustomed.

Lagerfeld is far from the only celebrity to make provision for a much loved pet.

British designer Alexander McQueen left $80,000 to be put in a trust fund for his three English Bull Terriers, Callum, Juice and Minter, and Oprah Winfrey has also set up a trust fund to provide for any dogs which outlive her.

Can I make legal provision for my pet after I die?

This is a question that concerns many of us. After all, one in two UK households own a pet adding up to around 11 million cats, almost nine million dogs and one million rabbits not to mention assorted rodents, reptiles and bird life.

And yes, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure they are cared for as you would wish after your death thus bringing you peace of mind.

What does the law say about pets and your Will?

Under UK law, pets are classed as ‘chattels’ – that means they are seen as your personal property along with cars, books, pictures, furniture, jewellery and so on.

The only exception to this, is if your pet is a working animal – for example, a sheepdog – in which case they may be considered a business asset.

Getting it right

You cannot leave a cash sum of money directly to a pet as they cannot legally receive an inheritance.

As a result, you need to identify how best you can provide for their future in your Will. There are a number of ways you can do this including:

  • Consider gifting your pet to someone – first check with the person concerned that they are happy about this but do bear in mind that even if they agree, they are not legally obliged to take on your pet;
  • Think about including ‘substitute beneficiaries’ just in case your first choice can’t, or won’t, take on the role. You could also link this to a cash gift to cover the cost of caring for your pet in return for an undertaking to do so;
  • Ensure you clearly identify your pet, or future pets, in your Will so that your executors know which one is being gifted. This might include wording your Will in a certain way to cover any pets you might have in the future – for example, a substitute clause such as ‘any other dog I own at my death’;
  • Leave your pet to an animal charity – the RSPCA for example, runs a Home for Life scheme pledging to take in your pet when your die and do its best to find them a caring new home. A simple clause in your Will can ensure this happens;
  • Set up a Trust – these can play a role in providing for a pet after you have gone including protecting any funds set aside to care for them;
  • Use a ‘Letter of Wishes’ to run in conjunction with any trust – for example, how you would like your pet to be cared for, their daily routine, habits and dietary requirement as well as contact details for their vet;
  • Add a codicil to an existing Will – this is a simple document that is signed and witnessed in the same way as a Will allowing you to make changes to an existing Will instead of drawing up a new one. This is only recommended for the simplest of amendments.

For advice on making or updating a Will as well as making provision for your pet, please contact our Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity Team.

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