“Pet Inheritance? Just give it all to the dog.”

The world’s richest pets

A chimpanzee is hardly the most ethical pet in the world to keep, but Kalu wouldn’t have minded too much. Set to inherit $70 million from her owner, the British countess Patricia O’Neill, Kalu was likely getting ready to enjoy a life of luxury few animals have ever experienced when her owner died.

Unfortunately, it turned out that a crooked financial advisor had been stealing O’Neill’s money for years, reducing her vast estate down to almost nothing. Kalu’s dreams of infinite bananas and a mansion-sized jungle gym were dashed before they had even started.

But is any of this legal? Can you leave money to your pet and what happens with them when you die?

Pet Inheritance – The Facts

Pets are considered to be ‘chattels’. This is the legal term for essentially a piece of property, like a fridge or set of curtains. It feels a bit mean to consider your precious furry, feathery, scaly, or slimy friend as having no more legal rights than a toaster, but that is the law. The exception to this would be working animals, such as sheep dogs or sniffer dogs, but for the most part pets are treated as chattels.

Since you can’t leave all of your money to your fridge, you also can’t leave it to your cat. At least, not directly. So what are your options?

A Trust of Imperfect Obligation

Since you can’t leave the money directly to the animal (not that they would be able to spend it themselves anyway), the money instead has to go to a person. One of your options is what is called a Trust of Imperfect Obligation. In this case, the funds that you allocate will be paid to a ‘legatee’ (someone who receives a legacy) who must then use the funds to look after the pet. They have to be willing to take this responsibility on however. There is no legal obligation for them to follow through with looking after the pet. If they refuse then the trust fails.

Should they say yes, then the Court will issue what is known as a Pettingall order which will release the money to the legatee but require them to use it for the sole purpose of caring for the pet. If they fall short of this obligation then they could be open to having other beneficiaries asking the Court to enforce the rules or give them the money instead.

Who will look after my pets when I die?

There is another route you can take. This one is more straightforward legally speaking, but requires more trust in your pet’s new owner. You can leave the pet, along with a portion of your estate, to a specific person. You can stipulate in your will that they will only receive the estate if they agree to take care of the pet. From this point, the person has no legal accountability ensuring that they use the money specifically to care for your beloved pet.

Therefore this option is best to take in situations where you really trust the legatee.

Donating estate to animal charities

We have worked with many clients who have chosen to leave significant portions of their estates to animal charities. Charities like the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, and Battersea Dogs Home are all favourites. Local smaller charities are likely to be more impacted by large donations however, so many choose to support them instead.

Make a Will – Pet Inheritance

It all starts with making a will. If pet inheritance is close to your heart, why not get in touch today with our animal-loving probate department? We can help you draft a will that will guarantee your pet gets the best legal representation they could ask for. We will even bring treats along to any meetings with our newest four legged clients.

Get in touch today by phone at 0208 735 9770 or by email at info@hpwsolicitors.co.uk

Read more about inheritance, wills and estate planning below:

Inheritance Tax on the Rise – Record Revenues for HMRC?

Feel That You’ve Been Done Out Of An Inheritance? Contact a Solicitor Today


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