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Wills & Probate | Who Looks After Your Pet When You Die?

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Any pet owner knows it’s just like any other loved member of the family. I am often asked what happens to a pet when someone dies or becomes ill? How to be sure your pets are looked after and cared for should you pass away?

Let’s look at the legal issues and what happens to your pet if you don’t have a Will. If you’re married or in a civil partnership, your surviving partner gets the pooch. Tricky if you’re separated and haven’t settled finances but wanted your little fluffy friend to go to someone else. That’s because the law defines pets as chattel, ie tangible movable property. If you’re not married and also don’t have a Will then it’s a real tangle.

So, firstly you need to make a Will. In your Will, you can make a special provision for your pet. But, despite all the stories you hear about people leaving millions to their cats, you can’t actually do that. Remember I said above that pets form part of your chattels, so (at least as far as the law is concerned) a pet is not a person, and therefore you can’t leave assets or money to it. And in any case, how on earth would they open a bank account? No ID, they can’t use the internet for online banking. It just wouldn’t work.

You could, however, make a gift to a friend or relative who is willing to take care of your pet. Alternatively, you could set up a pet trust (yep they exist, they’re called purpose trusts). Patch can’t be a beneficiary, but you can leave instructions for the trustees to use the money to look after him or her and pay for their care. Of course, as much as we don’t want to think about it, your little friend will one day die (I know, I gulped a little as I wrote that) so you need to name beneficiaries who will ultimately benefit after your pet has gone to doggy or kitty heaven. Perhaps they’re in the same place and they will still chase each other around up there.

Interestingly, a Will isn’t the only place you might need to think about your pet. If you lose mental capacity, either through sudden illness, accident or even dementia, who will look after your pet? You could write preferences or instructions in your Lasting Power of Attorney if there were certain things you wanted to make sure of, but just making a Lasting Power of Attorney for property and finances means that your attorneys would have the authority to make payments on your behalf for the maintenance of your pet.

If you’ve ever had a pet you’ll know that animals are super sensitive to any change. Make sure that if you’re no longer here to look after them, at least their precious little lives continue with the same routine and quality loving care you’d want them to have.

Emma Aslett

0207 183 4595

The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute professional advice and you should take full and comprehensive legal, accountancy or financial advice as appropriate on your individual circumstances by a fully qualified Solicitor, Accountant or Financial Advisor/Mortgage Broker before you embark on any course of action.

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