In the US, more than a quarter of people who execute a will make arrangements for the care of a family pet when doing so. These range from the sensible – establishing who will take care of the animal after the owner’s death – to the more extreme – where people leave vast sums of money to be held on trust for their pet.
A notable example of the latter was the will of US billionaire, Leona Helmsley, which left over $12 million to her dog, Trouble. Similarly, heiress, Gail Posner, infamously left her chihuahuas a $3 million trust fund, as well as property to the value of $8.3 million – while leaving her only son just under $1 million.
So, can the same be done under Scots law? Can a pet owner leave their fortune to his or her nearest and dearest cat or dog?
The straightforward answer is no. Under Scots law, an animal cannot be the ‘object’ of a legacy. This means that you cannot leave your money to your pet directly. For example, a bequest which said ‘I leave £100,000 to Fluffy, my only hamster’ would fail. The money cannot be given to Fluffy his or herself.
However, there are ways to ensure that your pet is cared for after you are gone. First, a pet can be the ‘subject’ of a bequest. This means that you can leave money to another human being in order that that person looks after the animal in question. Essentially, you are giving the money to a person, but only on the condition that they care for your pet and use the money to provide for the animal.
There are obvious risks with this approach, namely that the person charged with the care of the animal will take the money without living up to his or her obligations. One way to avoid this is to provide the money in instalments or upon the death of the animal. It may be difficult to ascertain whether or not the person has met the required level of care, so it is advisable to leave greater detail about your expectations in a separate letter of wishes.
Finally, in light of the complications involved in leaving assets to pets outlined above, pet owners may want to consider other options. Leaving the animal to the care of a willing family member or friend, without any monetary obligation, may prove to be a simple and effective way to ensure its care. You can make arrangements for this in your will if you have an agreement with the prospective owner. Otherwise, it is often possible to leave a pet with an animal shelter. These organisations are normally charitable. As such, the money that was intended for your pet alone could be given as a charitable bequest to help animals more generally.
While not everyone has a multi-million dollar fortune to leave to an animal, many of us will be understandably anxious about the future of our pets. It is sensible and reasonable to make sure that they will be taken care of after we are gone. Including such provisions in your will provides a practical solution to this problem.
Wills Solicitors Glasgow & South Lanarkshire
If you would like advice and assistance in order to make, or change, a will please contact us. We help clients write and update wills across Glasgow, East Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and beyond.