Suzanne Parsonson is a lawyer with the firm Gardner Leader. She specialized in wills and probate.
“Historically, the inclusion of animals as beneficiaries within wills caused much legal argument as to whether such clauses were valid. Initially, as the purpose was not considered to be "charitable" and the trust was not capable of being enforced by a person, they were thought to be invalid.
However, since the 1800's they have been considered to be valid if they comply with certain rules, namely :-
· The gift must be made to a specific animal or animals; and
· The trust period must not be considered to continue for too long a time period (known as the perpetuity period). It is common to limit the period to twenty one years or the life of the animal (whichever is the shorter).
Today, several methods of providing for animals are commonly used in wills:-
Gifting a specific animal to a particular person is a valid bequest, although you can only express a wish that they will look after and care for that animal for the rest of its natural life. There is currently no way of guaranteeing that this happens.
You cannot impose any binding obligation on the beneficiary to continue to care for the animal. The success of this bequest relies on selecting the correct beneficiary and hoping that the beneficiary will outlive the animal or will make provision in their own will for the animal.
You can gift a sum of money and the animal to a specific person and again express the wish that they care for the animal and use the money for this purpose.
However, the beneficiary may decide to give up the animal and keep the money. This cannot be challenged as they were absolutely entitled to both gifts and can do with them as they wish.
You can give a sum of money to the trustees of the will to hold on trust, for the particular animal for a specific time period. They must then hold the money and use it for the benefit of the animal. This is probably the safest method of ensuring that your wishes are carried out.
Once the animal has passed away or the time period has elapsed, the purpose has come to an end. You should provide for the balance of the fund to pass into your residuary estate.
This leaves the decision of where the animal is to be homed and how it is cared for with the trustees. Some guidance should be given by way of a side letter to be kept with the will.
You can express the wish that a specific person make suitable arrangements for a specific animal or animals, which are reasonable in the circumstances at the time of your death.
This is only an expression of wish and will rely on the person named being able and willing to make these arrangements."
In the UK there are various loopholes and other potential trap doors which occasion the need for prudent planning. However, Americans benefit from a bespoke service aimed at ironing out all potential problems to offer peace of mind to pet owners. At present, this kind of service is only available in the USA, but the company plans to make their services available internationally in the near future.
'My Owner Has Gone To Heaven’ is an organisation that specialises in advising dog owners of how to ensure that their pet is looked after in the best possible manner in the event that they should die or become unable to continue to be a dog owner.
For Terri Malueg-Ray, a single woman living in Atlanta, GA, the question of “What will happen to my dogs” was posed on September 11, 2001 in the midst of the terrorist attack on the United States. Terri, aboard an aircraft 42,000 feet above Texas, had just left her Atlanta home for a business trip when she learned that U.S. airplanes were being hijacked while she was in the air.
She swore to herself that if she made it home, she'd take the necessary steps to ensure that her two dogs would be taken care of if anything happened to her.
My Owner Has Gone To Heaven offers a service whereby the client is required to nominate three people as caregivers for the pet. The company monitors the care given to the pet, and should this care not meet the standards set out in the client’s will, they can move the pet to either the second choice caregiver, or to an approved community partner that will carry out your wishes under the supervision of the organisation.
The key to ensuring that your pet is cared for in the way that you wish, is to ensure that you trust the person that you select to be a caregiver. It is imperative to be explicit in your wishes, especially where health concerns may be involved. Since in UK law, the pet is still viewed as a possession, the trustee in most cases is not legally required by law to keep the pet.
While most of us will know instinctively who the best person would be to care for our pets in the event of our own deaths, it is important to modify your will should these circumstances change.