Pets hold a special place in our lives, often considered as much a part of the family as any human member. With over 17 million households in Britain owning at least one pet, it’s increasingly common for pet owners to consider the welfare of their furry friends in their estate planning. But how can you ensure that your beloved pet is taken care of after your demise? Let’s delve into the legalities and practicalities of including pets in your will.
Understanding the Legal Status of Pets in a Will
In the eyes of the law, both in England and Wales, animals are classified as personal property. This means you cannot directly leave money or assets to your pet in your will, as you would to a human beneficiary. Despite the emotional bond we share with our pets, the law does not recognise them as capable of owning property or assets. However, there are several ways to ensure your pet is cared for after you’re gone.
Creating a Trust for a Pet
One of the most effective methods is setting up a trust. Trusts for pets, known as ‘Pet Trusts’, are becoming increasingly popular. They involve appointing trustees who are legally responsible for the money and are tasked with using it for the pet’s care. Once the pet passes away, any remaining funds can be allocated to a human beneficiary or charity of your choice. This arrangement offers a more structured approach and can provide peace of mind that your pet’s needs will be
Appointing a Caretaker and Allocating Funds
Another option is to leave your pet, alongside a sum of money, to a trusted friend or family member in your will. This approach is more straightforward but requires careful selection of the caretaker. It’s essential to ensure that the person you choose is willing and able to take on the responsibility. Additionally, you can draft a letter of wishes, providing guidelines on the pet’s care, although this letter wouldn’t be legally binding.
Charity Bequests for Pet Care
For those who don’t have a willing individual to take on the responsibility, another option is to leave a bequest to a charity. Some charities offer schemes to take care of pets whose owners have passed away. For instance, the Cotswold Dogs & Cats Home in the UK has a “Home for Life” scheme. By including special wording in your will, your trustees can pass the care of your pets to such charities.
High-Profile Examples and Estate Disputes
High-profile cases have shown the extent to which some pet owners go to ensure their pets are well cared for. Karl Lagerfeld, for example, reportedly left $1.5 million to his cat, Choupette. In the United States, billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley left a substantial part of her estate for the care of dogs, including a specific trust fund for her Maltese dog, Trouble.
However, these arrangements can sometimes lead to disputes. In the case of Helmsley, her decision to leave a significant part of her estate for her dog resulted in a legal challenge from her grandchildren. This highlights the importance of clear, legally sound arrangements to avoid potential conflicts.
Celebrating the Bond Beyond Life
In a more light-hearted aspect of pet inheritance, there have been instances where people celebrate their pets as part of their legacy. For instance, two celebrities dressed up as Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, at a Met Gala event, highlighting how pets can become integral parts of our identity and legacy.
Including pets in your will is a thoughtful way to ensure their wellbeing after you’re gone. Whether it’s setting up a trust, nominating a caretaker, or making a charity bequest, there are several options available. The key is to consult with a professional to make sure your wishes are clearly stated and legally binding. As our pets provide us with unconditional love and companionship, it’s only fitting that we consider their future in our final plans.