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Making a will for your pets

What will happen to our animals when we die is a concern for most of us. Where will they end up? Will their care be adequate? What can be done to ensure that our animals enjoy the same standard of care and wellbeing as they do now?

Caring for your animals from beyond the grave

Perhaps the simplest, and most often overlooked method, is to make a Will. Despite the ease of having a Will prepared, in research conducted in 2011 found that only 25% of the United Kingdom’s population have even considered preparing a Will.

Why make a Will?

In this age of austerity and the availability of ‘Do-it-yourself Will Kits’ at local stationary shops, some people are tempted to draft their own Wills, oblivious of the pitfalls involved in doing so. It is therefore always a good idea to take professional advice when making a will especially if circumstances are even just slightly out of what was once perhaps assumed to be the ordinary. For example:

  • Anyone who owns a property, land or has business interests overseas;
  • Anyone who has children under the age of 18, especially if you are divorced or separated or estranged from the mother or father of your children, have children from more than one marriage or who has parental responsibility is questionable;
  • Anyone estranged from one or more family members.  You can’t specifically leave someone out of your will without actually making one! Recent court cases have proved even with a will this is not always straight forward and so you should take legal advice;
  • Anyone who wishes to set up a trust for one or more of your beneficiaries;

Should you die without a Will, or your Will fails because of an error in its drafting, the rules of intestacy may apply.  This means some, if not all, of your worldly assets which are then distributed as per the rules of “intestacy” as prescribed by law (Part IV of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (as amended)). Under these rules, the first in line to receive your estate is your spouse, followed by your children, your parents, siblings, their children and so on and so forth down the family line. Aside from the missed tax planning opportunities afforded by preparing a Will, a carefully drafted Will ensures that the spendthrift black sheep of the family does not inherit your estate and spend your life’s work on wine, women and song before wasting the rest (as the late George Best is reported to have once said – and done).

Provision in your Will for your animal’s care

So what can be included within your Will to take care of your animals?

A number of options are available to the testator wishing for his/her animals to be cared for on their passing. The main decisions to make will concern who you would wish to look after the animal(s) and what resources that carer will need to maintain their care. Having made these decisions, your solicitor can consider the following options with you:-

Animal Charities

One option which a number of clients often ask about is leaving a gift to an animal charity on the condition that the charity finds a suitable home for the animal(s). I would always encourage clients to considering leaving a legacy in their Will to a charity as such legacies are invaluable to these organisations and there are intrinsic inheritance tax benefits in doing so (provided the charity is registered in the UK). However, this option provides no guarantee that your animal(s) will be cared for as you wish, because you cannot in reality impose conditions for the charity to satisfy. This means that the charity can accept the legacy but provide no guarantee about the care of your animal(s).

A legacy to a trusted executor

An alternative to the legacy to a charity is to instead leave a specific amount to the executors/trustees of your Will accompanied by a ‘Letter of Wishes’.

A Letter of Wishes is simply a letter, written and signed by the testator, providing instructions to their executors/trustees as to how they would like a certain legacy to be applied. These instructions are outside of the Will and do not become a public document as the Will itself becomes during the Probate process. Your Letter of Wishes could therefore detail who you would like to care for your animal(s) and what should be done with legacy if no-one is willing to take over the care.

A conditional gift to a beneficiary

Another option is a legacy to friend or loved one but worded so as to make the legacy conditional on them caring for your animal(s) or ensuring that a third party provides this care.

The benefit of this approach is that the executors/trustees of your Will have an ongoing duty to ensure that the beneficiary is applying the legacy for the benefit of your animal.

Whichever option you choose, it is best that you seek the advice of an experienced estate planning solicitor to guide you through the pitfalls of Will drafting. Yes, a Do-It-Yourself Will may be inexpensive to produce but if you get it wrong, the cost to the ones you leave behind far out-weigh the cost of a professionally drafted Will.

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