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Who will look after my pet if I die?


This blog post explores how you can make provisions for your beloved pet, in the sad event of your passing.

The UK is a nation of pet-lovers, and pet ownership has increased rapidly throughout the pandemic. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, over 3 million UK-households acquired their first pet during lockdown. However, research by The Kennel Club has shown that over a quarter of people who bought a dog or puppy during the pandemic did little to no research beforehand, so we want to shed some light what will happen to a dog, cat, or other pet, if their owner dies. 

Estate planning: advice for pet owners

So, having acquired a new dog, how will you provide for them in the future? When making a Will, people normally do some estate planning, and think about what will happen with their assets (home, money, investments, etc.). They will generally have beneficiaries in mind. But, what about your dog or other pets? Although you might consider them to be part of the family, legally they are actually considered as personal possessions, so it’s sensible to include estate planning for pets when writing your Will. 

Ideally, you will want to avoid any sort of argument within the family as to who gets custody of your dog (or other pet). Unfortunately, disputes about what happens to the family pet in the event of a death do come before the courts all too frequently and can be expensive to resolve, so the best thing to do is to ensure that you have made provisions for your pet in your Will. It is also a good idea to discuss these plans with a family member or friend. 

When you get a dog, cat or other pet, you will need to either update your current Will, or make a new Will if you do not already have one. Here are some things you should know and think about:

  • If you know a family member, or friend, who is willing to look after your beloved pets after you have passed away, and you trust them to do so, then it is possible to make a gift in your Will of that pet to that intended beneficiary.
  • To cover the eventuality of the intended beneficiary dying before you, or otherwise being able to look after the animal, you may wish to appoint a substitute beneficiary who can look after the dog, cat, or other animal in this eventuality.
  • Be careful that if you refer to a dog (or other pet) by its name in a Will, then the Will clause is limited to that specific animal – it would not cover any other future dogs, cats or other pets. It’s easy to draft the clause in such a way that this does not happen, but this is something to watch out for.
  • Do you intend that your dog or cat should be looked after at the cost of the beneficiary, or would you also wish to provide a cash gift to those who look after the pet? Would such a cash gift be unconditional, or conditional upon them looking after the dog, cat or other pet for its entire lifetime? One thing you must not do is to leave a cash gift directly to your pet (despite what you may have heard or potentially seen on TV, Facebook or other media channels). Dogs and cats are in law considered “possessions” and cannot open banking or savings accounts in their own right. They therefore cannot legally receive money or any sort of direct gift in a Will, but they do obviously incur costs so it might be wise to set aside some money for the family member or other beneficiary who will be looking after them. 
  • You may also wish to consider leaving a letter of wishes relating to your pets alongside your Will, that is addressed to your executors or the intended beneficiary of the dog. This letter may deal with such things as medical requirements, which vet they go to, exercise needs, food likes, or dislikes, temperament, and other issues considered important to you and that which will provide peace of mind. A letter of wishes can also be of valuable assistance to your intended beneficiaries who, of course, will want to do the best they can for the dog.
  • It is possible to create a trust in your Will which would permit the trustees to use the monies or other assets in the trust to pay for the care of your dog. The trust would be administered by the trustees you appoint, who very often will be the same persons you have appointed as your executors. You will, however, also need to name beneficiaries who will ultimately benefit from the trust assets after your dog has died. Trusts of this nature can be complex and will need to be carefully drafted. Professional legal advice would be wise if you are considering a trust of this nature. 
  • Of course, your Will only deals with the position for you have died, and does not help if you are suffering from poor health. What if you should become mentally or physically unwell to the extent that you are not able to look after your dog or cat in the way that you would wish? The answer may be to plan ahead for periods of poor health and, if you have not already done so, at the same time as making a Will, you may wish to create a new Lasting Power of Attorney for property and financial affairs. Your attorneys are then obliged to help you make your decisions and manage your affairs, which can include provisions for looking after your dog. 

What if I have no one willing to look after my pet after I die? 

Sometimes you may be unable to identify a suitable person who is willing or able to take on the responsibility of a gift of your dog, after your death. Luckily, lots of charities have peace-of-mind schemes that are easy to sign up for, such as the RSPCA’s Home for Life scheme, the Dog’s Trust Canine Care Card, or The Cinnamon Trust. 

It’s best to speak to the charity in advance so that you can better understand the nature of the services that are being offered. You may also wish to make a donation to the charity in your Will as a “thank you”. If you do make a gift of your dog to a charity, a letter of wishes is likely to be even more important because the charity will not know your dog. It can also include provisions as to the type of home that might be most suitable for the animal and help make sure your dogs’ (or other pets’) needs are met after your death. 

How can we help?

At Eric Robinson Solicitors, the Wills and Powers of Attorney team can advise you in relation to all of the above points and can assist you with the preparation of a Will and a Lasting Power of Attorney that suits your circumstances. Knowing that your dog’s future is taken care of will provide you with great peace of mind, enabling you to enjoy the companionship of your dogs, cats or other pets for as long as possible, free from worry.