Who will look after your pets when you die?
In the UK today, over six in ten families own a pet. A 2021 survey by the Dogs Trust revealed that unfortunately, 58% of people did not have a plan in place to care for their beloved pet after they have passed away. The implications of failing to plan for the future can extend beyond our human family.
As we live longer and independently on our own, it is not uncommon for an elderly person to leave a much-loved cat or dog behind when they die.
We might assume that friends or family will take in our pets when we pass, but without putting a plan for their care in place, can we really be sure they will be looked after properly?
Check your will
When someone dies, an important first step is to check if they have made a will and in relation to their pets, if there are any instructions for their care. The ideal is that it states clearly that the deceased would like a specific family member to look after their cat or dog. And in planning ahead for the care of your pets, making mention of your wishes in your Will is an important consideration.
However, the named person is not required to take responsibility for any pets. In planning ahead it is crucial to have the conversation about your pets with the people involved well before the fact. Knowing they have agreed to take them in will bring real peace of mind.
In the event that there has been no one named, or the person named is unwilling or unable to look after the animal, then the Will’s executors are responsible for finding the pet a new home. In legal terms, animals are regarded as personal property and subject to the same rules as other aspects of the estate.
Even without a Will, the executor may try to find a new home for pets left behind. But if no one comes forward to rehome the animals, it is likely that your pets will be taken to a local animal shelter or charity to be cared for and, hopefully, found a new home.
But without a clear plan in place, there are no guarantees how, or for how long, the pet will be looked after.
Putting a pet-plan in place
It is, however, possible to plan ahead properly for your pet’s future should they outlive you, with several animal charities offering rehoming schemes that can be arranged in advance.
The Home for Life scheme run by the RSPCA makes provision for pets after their owner’s death, guaranteeing to look after them in the short term and making efforts to find them someone to look after them in a loving home for the long term.
The charity recommends that pet owners make or update their Will with clear instructions on how to rehome their pet through the Home for Life scheme. It says that by using a specially provided clause to formally acknowledge the RSPCA in your Will and by returning a formal application form, you can ‘rest assured that your pets will be left in the hands of a dedicated team who promise to love and care for your pet as their own’.
The Home for Life scheme is free and there are no limits on the number of pets that can be provided for, although a separate application is required for each animal. However, charities like the RSPCA wouldn’t be able to do the work they do without donations from the public. The charity asks pet owners planning to use the Home for Life scheme to consider including a gift to the charity in their Will when they make it or have it updated.
Other charities that offer similar schemes include Blue Cross, Cats Protection and Dogs Trust. The Cats Protection and Dogs Trust both provide emergency care cards that alert the emergency services that you have a pet that will need to be taken care of should you be taken ill.