My owner died – what now?

We dote on our furry bundles of joy our whole lives, but do we ever consider what will happen to them after we die?

 You may wish to follow in the footsteps of high-flying accountant Mrs Bolasny, who gifted £1million into trust for the benefit of her Maltese terrier to allow her to continue living a life of luxury after her death with specific instructions for her to receive regular ‘paw-dicures’, haircuts and shopping sprees!

You might assume that a family member or friend would take on the animal and give it the care and attention it deserves, however, with the average cost of owning a cat or dog being between £16,000 and £33,000 over its lifetime, you can’t count on this. Without stating your wishes formally, you are leaving the fate of your beloved companion to chance.

Fortunately, the law allows you to make arrangements for your pets in your Will. Strangely, a pet is regarded as a ‘personal chattel’ in law, which means that it will be treated like your other personal belongings (unless it is a working animal, in which case it may be regarded as a business asset). This means that you cannot leave funds to your pet directly, however here are some other options to ensure your pet is well cared for:

The most commonly used way of providing for your pet is to leave it to a trusted family member or friend, usually with a cash sum to cover maintenance and potential vet bills. The cash sum is usually only payable provided that that person agrees to look after the pet.

If there is nobody you trust to take care of your pet as you would want, then charities such as the RSPCA, Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home are usually happy to take in your ball of fur and provide it with a loving, friendly home with a suitable new owner. If you know this is something you would like to do, then it is a provision you can make in your Will.   

A far less used and possibly over-complicated option is to create a trust for the benefit of your pet.  There is a special type of trust, limited to 21 years, in which you can leave funds to trustees which are to be used for the maintenance of the animal only. When you create this trust, you should leave a separate ‘letter of wishes’ to outline how you would like your pet to be cared for. These wishes can be as specific or general as you like.

If you’re feeling extra generous, you could follow in the footsteps of famous hotelier Leona Helmsley, who left a whopping £2.5billion in a trust fund for her beloved dogs, one of which was a Maltese called ‘Trouble’, however, this ended up causing more ‘Trouble’ than it was worth – as the poor pooch was forced to live a life on the run amid multiple death and kidnap threats!

If you have any queries about this article or would like to make a Will, please contact a member of the private client team.

Graeme Black
Partner, Private Wealth & Inheritance
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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