Passing on pets via a will - Veterinary Practice
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Passing on pets via a will

looks at the options for people
wanting pets looked after
when they have departed this
life – in an article which offers
help to practices which may
be asked for advice

THE UK is well-known as being a nation of animal lovers, with many of us owning our own beloved pet, whether it is a dog, cat, rabbit or even a reptile, but do you ever think about what will happen to them if you are no longer around? We have all heard stories of sometimes extravagant individuals leaving huge sums of money to animal charities after they die, but one stumbling block many people face is what will happen to the pets themselves if they are no longer here to take care of them. Since most pet owners see their animals as another cherished member of the family, it is only natural they would want to ensure they are cared for properly after their death. Whilst leaving your pet to someone else in your will, for them to take care of, may seem like a logical and reasonable idea to you, it may not be favourable with the intended beneficiary and under UK law no one can force a person to accept a legacy, whether this is cash, property or an animal!

Consider all options

For this reason, pet owners should carefully consider all their options when thinking about this issue and the main choices available to them are:

  1. Leaving their pet to a nominated person. However, they must consider that the nominee can either refuse to accept responsibility for the animal, or they may have passed away previously without the pet owner having had a chance to change his or her will.
  2. Leaving their pet and a cash sum to their executors (the people who look after their affairs on death). They can leave a letter detailing how they want the animal to be looked after and who they want to have responsibility. The cash sum can be used by the executors to look after the pet until a permanent home is found, or possibly as an incentive for someone to accept the animal, if the expense was a reason for the reluctance in the first place.
  3. Leaving their pet and a cash sum to a charity. A lot of people leave a legacy to an animal charity, such as the RSPCA, with clear directions that they should find a suitable home for the pet and the charity is given full discretion to deal with the animal as it sees fit. The cash sum, although not a condition, may be used for the pet as far as it is needed. This is becoming a popular choice for pet owners, especially if they do not know anyone who would be prepared or able to look after their pet. An animal charity is also usually able to act quickly and take the pet into its care.
  4. Leaving a trust for your pet. Whilst in theory this may be possible, this is fraught with difficulties and generally not recommended. One of the above options will usually allow you to look after your pet in the way you wish.

There are a few other charities which also offer a service when a pet owner dies, such as the Cinnamon Trust (specifically for the elderly and their pets) and the Dogs Trust, which has also introduced a “Canine Care Card”, which the owner carries with
them stating they have a dog and lets anyone know they have given instructions in their will as to how they would like the animal looked after. If you do decide to go down the route of naming a charity in your will, it is important to make sure you are accurate and detailed about your wishes. For example, two or more charities may have similar names and to ensure that the charity of your choice benefits, it is important to have its exact name and address written down correctly, as well as phrasing the gift properly, or there could be confusion with what your final wishes actually were. Many charities will be willing to help in letting you know their full and correct name for this purpose. Charities from time to time amalgamate with another charity and so again it is important that your will covers this. Another thing to remember is that a gift of cash to a charity is exempt from inheritance tax whereas a gift of cash to an individual is not. Catering for a pet in a will is not standard practice as yet, even though it is becoming increasingly common, so if this is something you want to do, you should bring up the topic with your solicitors because they may not mention it first. As with setting up a trust, you should also ensure that they and your witnesses are happy and comfortable with the idea before agreeing. A will is an important document and you should not put off writing one, because with it your final wishes can be carried out and your loved ones looked after. However you may choose to provide for your pet after you are gone, you will need to consider the practicalities of the situation. These may include things such as the life expectancy of your animal and the likely cost of its care for the rest of its life. As long as time is taken over choosing the most suitable course of action, you can be safe in the knowledge that your pet will be taken care of how you wished, when you are no longer around.

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