Estate planning for pets

With over 46% of all UK homes owning an animal of one variety or other there should be millions of people thinking about estate planning for pets. Unsurprisingly there isn’t. However, what happens to pets when their owner dies is a big problem.

In the UK cats and dogs top the pet leader board (if there was such a thing) with around 9 million of man’s best friend sharing unconditional love, fetching sticks and generally being good boys/girls for 24% of the population. Closely followed by 7.4 million cats belligerently tolerating their owners, occasionally showing their gratitude by way of a half eaten, still flapping sparrow.

Whatever type of pet you own what will happen to it after your gone is cause for concern. According to the RSPCA, about 70,000 owners die each year without making arrangements for their pets in their wills. So what happens to all these healthy animals?

Why estate planning for pets?

Shockingly funeral directors say they are increasingly being asked to arrange for healthy pets to be put down in order to be buried with their owners. The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) reports that clients have occasionally asked for pets to be put to sleep in order to be buried with their owners, but was not aware of it ever actually happening. Although, this is probably due to the complex laws surrounding burials in the UK. In short, you wouldn’t be allowed to have Fido actually in the coffin with you in a cemetery designated for humans but you could in a Pet Cemetery i.e. one designated for animals. (Although this conjures images of the Stephen King book of the same and terrifies the life out of me… pardon the pun!)

Probate Pets…
With an ageing population of ardent animal owners the issue of providing for the pets of the deceased could start to become a problem. So, what can you do to ensure that your pets are provided for when you’re not around to look after them?

Find a Guardian
In the same way that you would appoint guardians for minor children finding a replacement AND committed care giver is the most important step in planning for your pet’s future. If you have agreed with a friend or relative that they will take on the responsibility of looking after your pets then you must ensure that this is documented in your will. Also, that they know. So, it’s probably best to ask them first! However, this is not legally binding and when crunch time comes they can refuse to take your pets one.

Set up a trust
Put some money aside for your pets continued care. It may be the cost of feeding and caring for your animals, particularly if they are elderly that may make people reluctant to take them on. By setting up a trust you are taking the financial burden out of the situation. Trusts are complex so you’ll need to enlist the help of a solicitor to set something up. You can find some advice here.

Animal charities can help
And, if need be there are a number animal charities that can always help. Dogs Trust operates the free Canine Care Card RSPCA runs Home for Life and Blue cross offers Pets into Care. These all work on the same premise; a free service that ensures that when an owner dies, their animal is taken into its care until a new, loving home can be found. To take advantage of any of these schemes you will need to register.

If you are concerned about what will happen to your pets once you pass on the best thing you can do is get some help. All our Future Legal Services consultants have a wealth of knowledge and can offer professional advice on what is the best thing for you and your pets.

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