If you’re pet crazy and want to leave all your worldly goods to your fur baby or beloved feathered friend there are a few things you really should know. Because unlike the law in the US, the legal stance on leaving money to your animal is very different here.
There are many stories of wealthy people leaving huge sums of money to their beloved pets when they pass away.
According to the New York Post, in 2015 a female entrepreneur in Manhattan left an impressive $100,000 to her cat, her dog and her 32 cockatiels!
Leslie Ann Mandel also left behind detailed instructions regarding how she would like her pets to continue to live.
Among the requests, her will noted that she wanted them to remain in the aviary at her New York home and even discussed the materials and size required of a new enclosure if the beloved birds weren’t able to stay.
She also went to lengths to specify exactly what the birds were to be fed and at what times, saying they were particularly fond of an expensive, natural birdfeed.
But what’s the rule in the UK? Can we pet-pampering Brits leave everything or indeed ANYTHING to our animals?
The short answer is no as they cannot inherit assets from you as they’re classed at chattels – more on that below. But there is a legal loophole you should know about if you want to put in place plans to protect their future care.
We asked Martin Holdsworth, founder and director of IDR law which specialises in sorting out contentious wills, probate and trust disputes, to explain more.
Your dog (and your Xbox and fridge!) is a chattel
Never heard of the word before? Us neither! This is why we asked Martin to explain what the law defines as a ‘chattel’.
Martin said: “Your pets are treated as one of your chattels. Chattels are described as something that belongs to you that you can pick up and walk away with such as a TV or jewellery etc – if it’s really heavy, like a car, it’s still a chattel even though it would really hurt if you tried to carry it away!
“So, in legal terms, a cat, a dog or tortoise is a chattel and not a legal person. In the same way as you can’t leave money in your will to other chattels – for example your favourite Xbox or fridge – you can’t leave money to your pet”.
Pets falling under the chattel category aside, people are bound to have a deeper, more meaningful relationship with a pet that far transcends other chattels and any emotional attachment to material possessions.
Unfortunately, if a will fails to mention existing pets or if there is no will at all, then pets will be dealt with in the same manner as other chattels and will be divided between the entitled beneficiaries.
The Queen could get your cat!
It’s important to note that there is no guarantee nor obligation for the beneficiaries to look after the pet and no financial provision should a beneficiary accept a pet into their care.
Martin said that these situations can often lead to ‘freak occurrences’ and gave some examples of these.
He added: “If you die with no family surviving and no will, your estate will be declared “Bona Vacantia” and all of your estate including the pets would go to the Queen!
“If none of the beneficiaries entitled wants the pet, they can simply refuse to take it. It is then down to the executor named in the will to try and find a home for it.
“The executors named in the will (or the administrators if there is no will) have a legal duty ‘to preserve the estate until distribution’, so they may end up having to take the pet in until a home is found.”
Despite the fact that in the UK your pet cannot inherit assets or money from you, there are certain ways around this to safeguard the future care of your animal, explains Martin.
Make a will and gift the pet
You can gift the pet to someone you trust along with a lump sum of cash to cover the maintenance costs (food, vet bills etc). This is generally a good solution but there is no legal onus on the recipient to keep the pet.
They can technically get rid of the pet and keep the money.
Create a Pet Trust
This can be done while you are alive or in your will. The Pet Trust usually appoints two people to be the trustees of a trust which has in it (a) the pet and (b) some funds to cover the maintenance costs of the pet.
The trust can be drafted to set out what obligations the trustees have imposed upon them when looking after the pet (walk twice a day etc).
An advantage of this option is that the trustees are bound to follow the terms of the trust. The downside is the expense of preparing one and getting someone to agree to be a trustee.
The RSPCA’s idea
The RSPCA will take pets and look after them for free but it is still recommended that the clause enabling the executors to take advantage of this is included in your will.