Can I leave my pet in a will?
Q: I am in my late 70s and own a dog. I am worried about what will happen to her if I’m not around to look after her - what can I do?
I’ve had my faithful Labrador for around 8 years now and I got her after my lovely wife died. In the last year or so I’ve noticed my health deteriorating. If I had to go into hospital, how can I make sure she is looked after? Also, if I were to pass away, what will happen to her? In other words, can I include my beloved pet Labrador in my will?
A: This is a great question - and so timely given that Crufts has been in the headlines recently.
Even though your animal isn’t an “asset” in the same way your house might be, for example, it is still recognised as property under the law. Therefore, you still have a responsibility to ensure your pet’s welfare - and that would include what would happen if you were unable to look after them through accident or death. Many people include long-living animals, like tortoises, in their wills - so it’s certainly not unusual.
So, the answer is, yes you can leave an animal in your will.
You will need to list the animal, so in your case your pet Labrador and her name, and include the name of the person you would like to own her after you die - the “beneficiary”.
You cannot leave money to a pet.
Please consider that looking after a dog is a big responsibility. They will come with bills to feed them and look after them day to day, as well as vet bills when they get sick. The person looking after the dog will need to take on this responsibility and make sure they can afford to do so. You can of course leave some additional money to your beneficiary to help with the care of the animal, but you cannot ringfence it as such. You also cannot ensure that the person retains the animal, even if they receive a legacy to do so.
You will need to make sure you have a conversation with them to make sure they are in a position to look after the dog and that they are ready to do so.
You might want to consider an alternative.
You do not mention a specific person, such as a family member that you wish to own your dog and alternatively, you might want to consider handing her over to a rescue.
There’s a misconception that rehoming rescues keep them caged up until a new owner comes along - but actually this simply isn’t the case.
We’ve heard from dog and cat rescue centre, Helping Dogs and Cats UK (HDCUK), that has just been nominated for an Animal Star Award.
Founder, Kirsty Wrightson, said: “Dogs (and cats) that come into us go to experienced, loving volunteers who foster them for up to six months and longer if needed. They live with them in their homes, get cuddled, fed and treated as a member of their family until they are ready to move into a permanent home with a new owner.
“As you can imagine, many who end up being placed for foster care end up being rehomed more quickly, because they end up staying with their foster family - or they are rehomed to someone within the close circle of the foster family.”
At HDCUK, the rescue also covers food and vets bills to help the foster family with the cost of the dog or cat - so they are always very well looked after.
You might want to consider asking rescues like HDCUK to look after her in the event of your death and leave a legacy gift to them in your will to make sure your beloved Labrador is looked after until she is rehomed.
If you would like to know more about including pets in a will, contact the Private Client team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.