Many people worry about what will happen to their family pets if they were to die before them or have to go into care. Indeed, animal shelters up and down the country are filled with cats, dogs and other animals whose owners have either passed away or have gone into care and been unable to take the pets with them. Each is a sad story of a beloved companion now facing an uncertain future and desperate for a new home.
It goes without saying that this is the last thing that any of us would want for our pets. This page aims to explain how proper provision can be made for them, both during your lifetime and if you were to pass away.
Whether you are approaching this issue from the perspective of a Will or Lasting Power of Attorney, the starting point is the same. Your pets are, for the purposes of the law, regarded as your personal property. This means that they do not have legal personality in their own right, and are treated in the same way as your furniture, car or jewellery. Many of us, who dearly love our pets, find this legal standpoint distasteful and even offensive. However, the law is unlikely to change any time soon.
What happens if I need to go into care or lose mental capacity?
If you make out a Lasting Power of Attorney for Property and Finance, the starting point is that your attorneys will have a blanket authority to deal with all of your property, including your pets, in a way that they consider to be in your best interests. Court appointed deputies have similar powers.
The problem is that “best interests” can be very widely interpreted, and quite often to the detriment of your pets. The risk is that your attorneys could take the decision to give away your pets, hand them over to an animal shelter or even put them to sleep. This course of action is usually taken with the aim of preserving your finances, to ensure that you can pay for your own care. After all, animals are expensive to look after. Desperately sad though it is, there is not a court in the land that would take your attorneys to task over this, provided they can demonstrate that the actions were taken with your best interests at heart.
So, how do you prevent this? This is where the “instructions” and “preferences” section of the LPA comes in. This is a key part of the document, which allows you to set out your wishes for what you would wish to happen to your pets if you were not able to care for them yourself. If you have any preferences about who you wish to look after them, you can put these in the document. Similarly if your chosen person does take up the care of your pets, you can instruct your attorneys to give them some of your money for the animals’ care.
These sections in your LPA document need to be drafted quite precisely in order to be effective and give sufficient clarity to ensure that it reflects your wishes, so it is recommended that you speak to your solicitor for help with this.
Providing for your Pets in your Will
It is not uncommon for people to make specific provision for the animals they own in their Wills. Many people choose to gift their cats, dogs, horses and even parrots and tortoises to named individuals in their Wills, to take effect after they die.
Leaving the animal to a named person is a simple enough clause. However care must be exercised when making financial provision for the pet’s upkeep for the remainder of its lifetime. Many people who draft their own Wills fall into the trap of leaving a sum of money to “my dog Rover”. These gifts are bound to fail because an animal cannot legally receive the gift in their own right. You then have to hope that your residuary beneficiaries will honour the gift and give the money to the person to whom the animal has been left.
There are of course clauses which can be inserted to ensure that your pet’s needs are met from a financial perspective. It is recommended that you discuss this with your solicitor when preparing your Will.
For both Wills and LPAs, it is essential that you discuss your proposed arrangements with the person you would most like to look after your pets. The risk is that they only find out about your wishes when it is too late, and refuse to look after them.
Pet Charity Schemes
The RSPCA’s Home for Life scheme involves writing a clause into your Will or LPA instructing that care of your pets is handed over to the RSPCA if you should die or lose capacity. The RSPCA pledge that they will do all they can to find new loving homes for your pets. For more information please visit www.homeforlife.org
The Cinnamon Trust provides long term care for pets whose owners have passed away or moved to residential care where pets are not accepted. You need to make arrangements with the Trust well in advance if you wish to use this option. Emergency cards are available on request and again you will need to leave instructions in your Will and LPA that care of your pets is to be handed over to the Cinnamon Trust. For more information please visit www.cinnamon.org.uk.
If you wish to safeguard the future of your beloved pets, the time to act is now. Speak to one of our specialist solicitors today!