April is National Pets’ Month. As a nation of animal lovers, solicitor Stephanie Pratt explores what legal actions we can take to protect our furry friends.
Pets are very much part of our families and we make a real effort to ensure they are being looked after and, in many cases, spoiled rotten. As well as taking good care of their health and wellbeing, there are practical, long-term things you can do to ensure your pet is protected.
There is no automatic legal protection offered to pets but it is possible to lay out specific details in documents such as Wills to outline your wishes for them.
There are also benefits for animals in general, as well as your personal tax liabilities, to be gained by leaving a legacy to an animal charity.
A Power of Attorney gives someone you trust the ability to manage your affairs if you are unable to do so – for example should you be travelling abroad or affected by poor mental or physical health. If your pet became ill while you were unable to look after it, the Power of Attorney would be able to take over this responsibility for you. If you have specific requests then these can be outlined when the documentation is being drafted, for instance if you have a preferred vet or course of action to be taken in the event of an accident.
Provision can be made in your Will to record what you would like to happen to your pet in the event of your death, such as passing them into the care of a friend or relative, perhaps with a monetary sum to assist them in looking after the animal. The financial element can be conditional on that person agreeing to care for the animal.
A Trust could also be established and financial assistance could be given to any individuals caring for the animals. The Trust would allow for flexibility and could be used and adapted to the needs of the animals and the funds needed by the person looking after them.
By making a record of your wishes in your Will, you can also express how you would like the animal to be cared for - for instance, if you would wish particular pets to be kept together, given a special diet or kept at a specific location.
We often read sad stories from rehoming charities of pets left behind when their owners pass on. These charities are great at finding a loving new home for the animal where they will be well cared for and loved by a new family. If however you have far more specific wishes on how you would like the animal to be looked after then Wills and Trusts are all great options for managing that care.
It is not possible to leave items or cash to an animal directly. Leaving money to an animal charity in your Will with the request that you would like them to care for or rehome your pet is a popular option.
More than 15% of charities’ income comes from legacies in Wills and this financial support allows them to continue their invaluable work. As well as the feel-good element of being a benefactor, there can also be financial benefits for your loved ones from an Inheritance Tax perspective.
If you leave at least 10% of your estate to a registered charity then there may be a reduced Inheritance Tax rate of 36% applied to your taxable estate. This can significantly reduce the overall tax bill being faced by those you want to provide for after you have gone.
People keeping animal ash in the hope that it can be buried with them when they pass away may be disappointed to learn this is not legal. Pets’ ashes are considered, in the eyes of the law, to be 'waste' and cemeteries for humans are not licensed as waste sites. Some pet cemeteries allow for human and pet burials so burial together can take place at these limited sites.
There are many factors to consider when dealing with the management of your estate and providing for your pet is a small but important part of that for many people. The number of considerations around this one matter highlights the importance of having up-to-date and detailed legal and financial preparations, as well as the importance of working with an experienced advisor.