What happens to your pet after you die?

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Most adults don’t get round to writing a will in the first place — never mind thinking about what could/should happen to their beloved cat or dog. However, making plans so someone can look after your pet after you die is worth doing — but what are the options?

What happens to your pet after you die

If you don’t have any plans in place, it will be down to your family and/or friends to decide what happens. If you know someone who would give your pet a good home, it’s definitely worth asking them if they’d take them on after you die. But before you do this:

  • Make sure they’re happy to take on your pet(s). It sounds obvious but the conversation must include whether or not they’re happy to take a different pet/additional pets if your situation changes before you die.

SAVVY TIP: You can’t write anything in your will insisting that the person you leave your pet to looks after them, says Nicola Plant, a solicitor with Thomson, Snell and Passmore. “That’s why it’s so important to have a conversation before you write your will.”

  •  Think about the wording in your will. Don’t simply specify that you want to leave your pet, Gnasher – or whatever – to your friend/relative, make sure you include wording so that any pet you own at the time will be taken care of.
  • Organise a back up plan. Contact a second person or think about naming a charity, in case your first choice falls ill, isn’t able to look after your pet at the time or has themselves passed away. If your pet is very exotic or time consuming to look after it may be harder to come up with a stand in, but it’s worth doing.
  • Leave money to your friend for your pet’s upkeep. Legally, you can’t leave money to your pet(s) as they’re viewed as chattels under the law, neither can you leave money in a trust for the benefit of an animal, says solicitor Nicola Plant. Instead you have to leave the money directly to the friend who’ll inherit your pet when you die.

SAVVY TIP: You can leave a pet to someone else in a letter of wishes, but you can’t leave money to them this way. If your will has already been drawn up, you have to add a codicil (which amends an existing will) setting out who should inherit the money, what it’s for and how much. Nicola Plant from Pemberton Greenish says that you can leave money ‘with the request and wish’ that it’s used to look after your pet.

  • Work out how much your pet costs each year and leave enough for a good few years. Don’t forget to add in the cost of pet insurance to pay vets’ bills.

Leaving a pet to a charity

If you don’t know anyone who would be willing to look after your pet you may be able to leave it to a charity. Several charities, including Blue Cross, RSPCA and World Horse Welfare will take pets left to them in a will. Make sure you include details of any arrangements in your will (and tell friends in case they can’t find yours).

SAVVY TIP: It is worth checking two things. Firstly, whether you have to make a donation to the charity in order for it to take on your pet(s). Secondly, check whether the charity offers any kind of guarantee that it won’t put down pets that are in good health. Some do, but others don’t.

  • RSPCA: has a free Home for Life scheme that takes pets (including horses, although it has limited space for them). It will take pets from people who lived in England and Wales and will try and find a new home for them. If you own several pets, it says it can’t guarantee to re-home pets together but it says it will try to.

SAVVY TIP: In Scotland the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a similar scheme to the RSPCA’s.

  • Cinnamon Trust: is a national charity for the terminally ill, elderly and their pets. Among other things, the Cinnamon Trust provides long term care to pets whose owners have died or moved to a care home that doesn’t accept pets.
  • Blue Cross: runs Pets into Care, which accepts dogs, cats, guinea pigs and hamsters etc (no fish or exotic pets) and horses on a case-by-case basis. If you apply for the scheme you’ll find out within a week whether or not your pet has been accepted.

SAVVY TIP: Blue Cross won’t keep your pet at the sanctuary but will try and find it a new home. The charity cannot guarantee to take in more than four pets from one owner, although it will try to do so.

  • Dogs Trust: its Canine Care Card scheme will take dogs free of charge although you are encouraged to leave a donation. You can download a registration form from the website.
  • Cats Protection: The leave a legacy section of the website includes information on securing the future of your cat.
  • World Horse Welfare: there’s a section of the site called leaving your horse in your will. The charity encourages people to leave a financial donation to cover the costs of caring for their horse and you have to become a member of World Horse Welfare for as long as your horse is registered with them. Your horse will be re-homed as the charity is not a sanctuary.

SAVVY TIP: Contact World Horse Welfare by email at info@worldhorsewelfare.org and ask for an Equine Details Form for each horse you own.

  • Redwings: the sanctuary’s Home in the Event of Death scheme (the information is under the ‘Helping Us’ section at the bottom of the page). The charity says that it only has limited space but will make sure it honours its commitment to take a horse after someone’s death. It asks for a donation of £10,000 (index linked) in your will for each horse. You can email the Legacies Officer at legacies@redwings.co.uk if you’d like to donate a horse.

SAVVY TIP: If a horse is under the age of 15, it will generally be re-homed unless it’s not suitable. If it’s over the age of 15 or if you specifically request it, it can be kept at the sanctuary.

Related articles:

Giving away money while you’re still alive

Getting hold of a copy of a will

When can a will be challenged?

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