1. Can I include a provision for my pet in my will?
The Administration of Estates Act 1925 defines domestic animals as “personal chattels” and, as such, it is possible to make gifts of family pets in your will.
2. Do not leave a gift directly to your pet
You have to be very careful with the wording of your will because an incorrectly written provision may fail. For example, a cash gift to your pet dog, cat or turtle will fail, not only because they would not be able to open their own bank account, but also because animals cannot own cash or give legal receipt to your executors.
3. Leaving your pet to a family member or a friend
Sure, most people would not mind looking after someone’s pet for a week or so while they are away on holiday. However, not everyone would be willing to take on the responsibility of caring for an animal permanently (especially if your pet is a giant tortoise who can live for more than two centuries). Make sure to discuss the matter with the person you have chosen and confirm they are happy to take on the responsibility (or the honour – the way I see it).
4. Incorporating the pet provision clause in your will
This is the tricky part – the clause(s) will have to be carefully worded to ensure that it does exactly what you intend it to do. As such, it is advisable to seek professional help when creating your will to make sure the clauses are enforceable.
5. Do not forget the costs involved in looking after your pet
This is especially important if your pet is used to a luxurious lifestyle and you wish for it to remain that way after your death. The courts have held that a testamentary gift to someone providing for your pet’s maintenance is a valid gift. The most common way would be to leave a legacy of your beloved pet and a cash sum to a named beneficiary. This, however, does not guarantee that the named beneficiary would definitely accept the responsibility of looking after your pet.
6. Is the cash gift conditional on the beneficiary looking after the pet?
As per my previous point, you can make the cash gift conditional upon the recipient taking on the responsibility of looking after the pet. This helps avoid a situation of your chosen person not being able to take on the responsibility simply due to lack of funds.
7. Have a plan B
Provide for a substitute beneficiary if your first choice is unable to take care of your pet after your death.
8. Have a plan C – animal charities
If you cannot think of anyone who can take care of your pet, many animal charities run free rehoming schemes that would provide for your pet when you are gone: RSPCA’s Home for Life, the Cinnamon Trust and The Dogs Trust Canine Care Card are just some examples. These services provide standard clauses to include in your will but, again, every situation is different and often the clauses need to be amended to reflect your individual needs.
9. Do not forget any potential future pets
If you are like me and are ready to adopt every kitten you find on the street, make sure to include any future pets you may have as at the date of your death in your will.
10. What if you outlive your pet?
Make sure any cash gifts made purely for your pet’s maintenance to your chosen care taker is conditional on your pet being alive on your death. In these situations, the gift would fail and form part of your residuary estate.