Wills & Probate: The cat that got the cream

The UK is a nation of devoted pet owners. Pets provide unconditional love, friendship and comfort – many owners consider them part of their family.

Even though pet owners hold their animals close to their heart, many fail to properly consider the needs of their pets whilst planning for the future, and in particular who will care for them on the death of their owner. It has been estimated that thousands of pet owners die in the UK without making arrangements for their pets in their wills, or leaving instructions. Unfortunately, if pets are left without provision, there is a risk they’ll be left unwanted and possibly homeless.

When writing a will, final wishes are established to look after loved ones, and arrangements are made for valuables to be distributed to chosen individuals. The law also treats pets as property, so it’s important to include provision for the continuation of their care. It’s wise to think carefully about how you’d like your pets to be looked after.

You may recall the recent press coverage of the death of fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld who’s Will left some of his fortune (estimated at £163m) to his beloved cat, Choupette. Fellow designer, Alexander McQueen left £50,000 in his £16m will so his dogs could be pampered for the rest of their lives and Oprah Winfrey has reportedly made plans to leave around £23m to her dogs.

If you are thinking about making a Will that benefits your pet, there are a number of considerations that should be factored into your plans;

1. Friends or Relations

If there is a trusted friend or family member you’d like to continue looking after your pet this option may be the best one for you. It’s a good idea to find at least two responsible friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers. You will need to speak to them about financing the care of the pet, you can leave them money in your Will to cover at least the immediate costs.
We can also help you prepare a detailed Letter of Wishes setting out any particular requests.

2. Trust Fund

Alternatively, you can set up a trust fund for your pet. This trust would allow your appointed trustees to pay any monies held within the trust and any income the trust generates for the benefit of your pet during their lifetime. However the trust cannot solely benefit your pet – it would normally be set up for the benefit of the person caring for your pet, with conditions that the money is used for your pet’s benefit.

3. Charity

The final option is to give money to a charity that deals with helping animals, and ask them to care for your pet as well. Charities should be contacted before your Will is drafted in order to find out about the schemes they offer. The organisation should be named and you must ensure that you can provide enough funds in the Will to enable the organisation to care for your pet for the rest of their life.

If you would like to discuss your wishes and options relating to Wills and legacy planning matters, please contact kathryn.caple@elselaw.co.uk or call her on 01283 526 200.

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