20 December 2023

Pets are for life: protect their future in your will

By Yasmin Knock, Solicitor, Hayes + Storr.

When making a will, most people consider the distribution of their financial assets. But do you know what happens to your pets if you pass away? Pets are part of the family, and the thought of leaving them behind without sufficient care in place can be worrying.

You may have already asked someone to care for your pet and if this is the case, then an informal agreement may be sufficient. However, it can be reassuring to have such provision detailed in your will. This article briefly explains the main options of dealing with pets in your will, but you should always seek tailored legal advice.

Absolute gift to a beneficiary

Generally, pets are considered ‘personal possessions’ (unless classed as business assets, such as cattle). You can bequeath a pet to a specific beneficiary, which can also include any potential future pets.

You should always discuss this with the beneficiary prior to recording it in your will, to avoid any surprises when you pass away. You will need to consider the age and capability of the beneficiary, as well as the life expectancy of your pet.

You can include a cash gift in recognition of caring for your pet, which can also consider future care costs, such as vet bills. The cash gift can be conditional on the beneficiary undertaking to care for your pet. However, there are risks associated with this option – a solicitor can provide advice and help calculate an appropriate value of the cash gift.

Gift to your Executors

Leaving your pet to your executors can provide more flexibility in providing suitable care. This is helpful if you are unsure who should care for your pet, or if you would prefer for your executors to make the decision, which can consider people’s circumstances at the time.

Letter of wishes

A letter of wishes can accompany your will, providing further details in respect of the care needs of your pet, such as medical or dietary needs to be aware of. However, the letter is not legally binding, and therefore your executor or beneficiary does not have to abide by its contents.

Animal Welfare Charity

If you do not have anyone suitable in mind, you can opt for an animal welfare charity to care for your pet, such as the Cinnamon Trust, Cats Protection or Dog’s Trust. You should always contact the charity prior to including this in your will to check their individual requirements.


In very limited circumstances, a trust can be set up to provide for your pet. A type of specific animal trust is limited to 21 years and may not be suitable for pets with a longer life expectancy. A discretionary trust of your residuary estate, along with a letter of wishes, is another option, which can provide great flexibility. As with all trusts, legal advice should be sought, as there are many practical issues and specific tax implications to consider. You should always seek legal advice tailored to your specific situation.

For further information, please contact Yasmin Knock in the private client team on 01328 863231 or email yasmin.knock@hayes-storr.com.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.