A Guide to Pet Care After the Death of an Owner

Steps you can take to ensure your dog, cat, or even budgie, are not left homeless when you die

Last updated: 17 March 2017

What happens to my pet when I die?

Tens of thousands of pets are at risk of becoming homeless every year when their owner dies. So how can you make sure that your much-loved companion won’t be among the homeless dogs and unwanted cats left out in the cold?

All too often, it’s simply assumed that a dog or cat will be taken on by friends or family members. Sadly, not everyone is able or willing to take on responsibility for pet care after the death of an owner. So it may be wise to consider, who will look after my cat or dog when I die?

Who will look after my pet when I die?

If you’ve already written a will and bequeathed your entire belongings to a loved one, or expressed a wish for someone to care for your pet when you die, they are not duty-bound by law to look after any pets you leave behind. They could be unaware and unprepared for the responsibility if you had not discussed your wishes, or feel unable to provide your pet with the care it needs.

It’s wise for animal-lovers to have a serious conversation with a family member or friend about looking after a much-loved pet, so you can ensure your wishes – and your companion’s welfare – are taken into account when you die.

If you live alone, then it is also sensible to consider leaving instructions that will make friends, neighbours or authorities aware of any pets you have and how to access them, should you suddenly be taken ill or die away from home.

Making provision for pets in a will

If you’ve agreed with someone who is happy to take on responsibility for your pet, you can include details about this arrangement when writing your will, or add it as a codicil to your existing will.

Although you can’t leave any money directly or in trust to your dog, cat, or budgie, you can still consider estate planning for pets. You can include a bequest to the person who’ll be taking care of it, to cover the cost of your pet’s upkeep and vet’s bills.

A solicitor can help you to draft this kind of clause in your will, stating the money has been left to be used by the named beneficiary to pay for the animal’s upkeep until the end of its natural life, or while it is in their care.

You can also leave funds for the upkeep of a pet in the form of a discretionary trust, a sum set aside for the care and upkeep of your pet. Usually, the new owner becomes the trustee responsible for administering the money during your pet’s lifetime. You can also leave instructions about to whom any money left should go to, after the death of your pet.

It’s advisable not to name your pet in your will, but simply make reference to the “dog” or “cats” that you are bequeathing. This makes things simpler in the event you adopt a new pet in between making your will and the time of your death.

You may also want to add a ‘letter of wishes’ with instructions on how you wish your pet to be taken care of and details about its routine, the veterinary surgery it is registered at, and so on. You don’t need a solicitor to change or add to a letter of wishes, but it’s sensible to keep one alongside a copy of your will.

What happens to pets when their owner dies?

If you have no family or friends willing or able to adopt your pet, many animal charities have pre-need registration schemes you can sign up to, which take care of unwanted cats and homeless dogs. These agreements give them responsibility for pet care after the death of an owner and they will try to find your animals a loving new home.

Most of those with free registration schemes have pre-written clauses you can include in, or add to your will and the option of leaving the charity a legacy to help care for your pet.

The RSPCA’s Home for Life scheme. This grants the charity absolute discretion to deal with the animal as it considers fit, so it will be on hand to take responsibility for your pet when you die and do all it can to find a new and loving home.

The Dogs Trust Canine Care Card , gives the charity the opportunity to rehome pets when a dog owner dies. If it can’t find a new owner, the charity says it never puts healthy unwanted dogs down and will look after them for the rest of their lives.

The Cats Protection League Cat Guardians Card , will take your cat to one of its rehoming centres, when it is notified of your death. It will do its best to find a loving new owner to care for your pet, however long it takes, and say it never puts a healthy cat to sleep.

The Cinnamon Trust , has a national network of more than 15,000 volunteers, who help elderly and terminally ill people care for and walk their pets. The charity, which also has two sanctuaries, provides a volunteer-led fostering service for pets, when their owners are taken into hospital or care. If you are a Cinnamon Trust service user at the time of your death and your pet is at risk of becoming homeless, the Trust will take on its lifetime care, by prior arrangement with you.