What should personal representatives consider when dealing with animals?

Earlier this year, the rescue of over 30 dogs from a bungalow in Kent made national news after it was discovered their owner had passed away and left the animals in the property alone.

Whilst this was an exceptional case, the care of our pets when we pass away is a topic that should be given real consideration and monitored as circumstances change.

A recent Forbes Advisor survey confirmed that an astounding 78% of pet owners acquired their pets during the covid pandemic. Interestingly, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, 3.4 million households have given up a pet since 2021. 

Chances are that, as a personal representative, you will have come across an estate where a pet needs to be rehomed following the death of the owner.


In some countries, pets are considered as "property" belonging to their owners. In the UK, we have legislation in place that requires owners to consider their duty of care and act reasonably when it comes to the welfare of their pets.

An animal cannot be put down simply because the owner has died and wants their pet to be put down so that they are together (surprisingly, this is the case in some jurisdictions).

It can fall to close friends or family, or quite often to the neighbours, to inform the Personal Representative of any pets.

It's not just domestic animals that need to be considered, those with livestock should also think about how they would like their animals to be cared for.

What provisions can be made for pets?

There may be provision in the deceased’s will. The will could pre-date the addition of the pet to the deceased’s family, but nevertheless this is a good place to start to try to determine what provision will be made for the pet.

This could be as a simple expression of wishes to appoint a guardian for an animal, for example: “I express the wish that Mr Smith takes care of my cat on my death”.

This can be worded in such a way to include any future pets if it doesn’t specifically name the pet.

Some people prefer to leave a sum of money for the care of their animals, so may include a conditional legacy with a sum of money attached for the upkeep of the animal. Alternatively, an ongoing trust such as a discretionary trust may be created for this purpose.

In the UK, an animal cannot inherit an amount of money directly, but readers may be aware that other legal systems have different provisions.

In France, Choupette – the cat of the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld – not only earns money in her own right by modelling and advertising products, but is also believed to benefit from Lagerfeld’s estate.

It is not yet known if this is by the creation of a foundation or other means, or a direct inheritance.

The deceased may have verbally expressed a wish for who would care for the pet on their passing. Therefore, asking friends and family if they recall any such conversations is a good consideration.

It could be the case that the named individual is unable to care for the pet or has themselves passed away.

In this instance discussions with friends and family can prove fruitful, as they may not want the animal to be rehomed outside of their close circle of relationships and may be able to provide care themselves.

Not everyone has a family member or friend that can take care of an animal, so alternative means should also be considered.

Many charities have their own pet care schemes, which can be identified by specific cards that are safely stored in a purse or wallet. This shows the intention that, if something happens to the individual, such as a terminal illness or death, this is the charity they want to look after their pet.

In other circumstances, there are schemes where an individual can adopt the animal, but ownership remains with a foundation or charity.

When the individual passes away, the animal can then be returned to the foundation or charity where they came from to be cared for. This gives the owner peace of mind that there will be suitable care in place.

In some circumstances, a pet may be unwell when their owner passes away, this could be from an existing medical condition or something that has come to light following the owner’s death. Executors should consider carefully where these fees should be paid from.

The expense will need to be reasonable and in some circumstances the consent of the beneficiaries may be required for the estate to bear the cost. Each case will depend on its own facts and who the beneficiaries are.

Our recommendations

  • If you can, get in touch with the individuals who appoint your charity as an executor or beneficiary when drafting their will, and consider asking about any pets they have and the provision they would want for them on their passing.
  • Consider maintaining a database on pet care schemes provided by other charities to help guide your supporters through the options available to them.
  • We recommend that when a new home is found for the pet, their microchip and registered vet is updated with details of the new owner.
  • In some circumstances, animals cannot be moved from a property. Some will require a certain environment or feeding at specific times, and it may be more beneficial to arrange for a local party to visit daily.

How we can help

Time and care should be taken to discover and consider the deceased's wishes for care of their pets.

Please contact a member of our Charity Probate team, to discuss the considerations for an estate administration matter.

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