Many people will have read the recent reports of a 67-year-old lady, Marlene Howes, who was prosecuted for allegedly fraudulently claiming pension tax credits and for allegedly concealing that she had received a £50,000 legacy under her mother’s will. Mrs Howes’ defence was that her mother had left her the legacy to be held in trust for the care of her mother’s many Persian cats. The case may have caused some people to wonder how to provide for their pets’ ongoing care in the event of their death.
As an animal is not a legal entity capable of owning or holding cash or property of any kind, it is not possible to leave money directly to your pet. Pet owners who are lucky enough to have relatives or friends prepared to look after their animals could consider leaving some money direct to the prospective new owner. It would have to be borne in mind, however, that if there is nothing in writing to evidence the terms of any agreement reached, there may be difficulty in enforcing it should the person receiving the money fail to use it for the purpose agreed. If the recipient is in receipt of state benefits, as in Mrs Howes’ case, the lack of any evidence as to the real intention behind the legacy could potentially cause a great deal of difficulty.
For these reasons it would be preferable to make the terms of the trust for the benefit of the pet very clear, either in the will itself or in a separate signed document referred to in the will.
Some owners may not have anyone who they feel able to ask to look after their pet. In that case, many animal charities will provide a new home for pets after their owner’s death, although some require a legacy in order to provide the service. It should be remembered that any bequest to a charity is free from Inheritance Tax (IHT) and, if you feel generous enough to leave at least 10 per cent of your net estate to charity, your whole estate could benefit from a reduced IHT rate.