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What will happen to your pet when you die?

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Lawyers are encouraging families with pets to update their wills following a surge in pet ownership during lockdown.

About 3.2 million households acquired a pet during lockdown, with this increase taking the national total of pet owners to about 17 million households, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.

But many people won’t have thought about what will happen to their pet when they die.

Private capital expert Paul Davies, from national law firm Clarke Willmott, says adding a pet to your will is simple and can save your loved ones from a lot of stress later down the line.

He said: “Everyone knows that a pet is not just for Christmas and it’s not just for lockdown either. Taking ownership of a pet is a big decision and part of that is considering what would happen to your pet when you die.

“A pet can be left under the terms of your will and there are various options available. The most formal is a trust in the owner’s will with trustees given a sum of money to provide for the pet’s care and asked to find a home for them. This needs to be carefully drafted by a legal expert.

“Another option is to give the pet to an individual in the will with a request that they provide a home for the pet. The request would not be legally binding so thought would have to be given as to what happens if the person can’t or won’t look after the pet.

“The least formal option is a letter of wishes accompanying the will setting out how you would like the executors to deal with your pet. This can be updated without changing the will but is not legally binding, although it would have moral force.”

It might also be possible to ask a charity to rehome your pet. For example, the Dogs’ Trust operates a scheme whereby the owner completes a canine care card. Someone is chosen by the owner as the ‘dog guardian’ who can pass over ownership of the dog to the Dogs’ Trust who will then attempt to find him or her a new home.

A similar service for cats is offered by Cats’ Protection and both charities pledge never to put down an animal because a new home can’t be found.

Couples buying a pet together should also think of speaking to a solicitor about drafting a ‘pet-nup’ which will detail what will happen to the pet in the event of the breakdown of the relationship.