Bishop & Sewell

One of the unintended consequences of welcoming a four-legged friend into the family home is that when you pass away, someone else will have to look after your dog or your cat. But have you specified who this should be and what your wishes are, write Maisie, Bishop & Sewell’s pooch, and Nicholas Barlow, Head of our Private Client team.

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, quoted here, over 3 million households acquired a pet during lockdown, with this increase taking the national total of pet owners to about 17 million.

So, in all likelihood, this could be you?

Another consideration if you have recently set up home with someone, or got married, is a ‘pet-nup’. If you break up, who will look after the dog/cat/lizard/fish?

Recent Blue Cross research shows:

  • Four pets are taken in by Blue Cross every week following relationship breakdowns
  • Dogs and cats are the most fought over pets, followed by horses, rabbits and guinea pigs
  • When Brits split it is usually (56%) the wife or girlfriend who keeps the pet, whereas just under a third of men (29%) retain full ownership
  • For those who couldn’t decide who should keep the pet, 15% decided to give them to a family friend, 12% to family members and 6% to pet charities such as Blue Cross

Of course, all this is made more complicated if you haven’t made a will and die intestate. In this circumstance the law has to decide who will inherit your estate.  The intestacy rules determine who should apply for probate and inherit the deceased person’s estate by putting the deceased person’s relatives in priority order.

Such an order considers who your relatives are, with allocations of your estate differing depending on factors such as whether there was a spouse/civil partner and/or children. Pets are not included.

Administering an estate without a will can be quite a stressful and lengthy process. Worse it’s possible that your wishes might not be considered as accurately as you would wish.

Assuming you have a will, adding your instructions regarding a pet is relatively straightforward and can save your loved ones from a lot of stress at a difficult time.

Of the various options available a legacy trust in the owner’s will is the most formal, with trustees given an amount of money to provide for the animal’s care and instructions on how to home them. Do not try this at home, it’s important that a solicitor drafts this.

Possibly the most common course of action is to bequeath the pet to someone mentioned in the will with instructions on how you would like the animal housed and provided for. However legal advice is best sought on drafting instructions on what should happen if the person cannot or won’t look after the pet.

Finally, there is always a letter of wishes which can be considered by the executors and whilst in most cases would be a useful way of letting them know what you would like, this is not legally binding.

Newspapers often used to run stories about wealthy dowagers cutting out all their family and leaving all their money to the Cats Protection League. In fact, both they and the Dogs Trust have schemes whereby a ‘guardian’ can be nominated by them and the charities will then rehome your pet. Importantly both have policies never to put an animal down just in case they can’t be rehoused.

But why take the risk? Update your will so your wishes can be recorded exactly, it will take less than an hour of your time.

Our Private Client lawyers have the knowledge and experience to guide you through these challenging times and have been ranked in the Legal 500 for their expertise.

If you are in need of advice or assistance on any of the issues mentioned in this article please contact Nicholas Barlow or another member of our expert Private Client Team on 020 7631 4141 or email

The above is correct as at 21 June 2021. The information above may be subject to change as this is a constantly evolving situation.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog | Date: 21st Jun 2021

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