Designer's fortune left to pet cat - but is it legal?

26th February 2019

Designer's fortune left to pet cat - but is it legal?

Following the death of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, much has been made in the media that his beloved cat Choupette is set to inherit a slice of his vast fortune.

According to French newspaper, Le Figaro, this could be feasible under German law - if the cat was nominated the ‘heir’ through an association or foundation.

Under the laws of England and Wales however, a cat or indeed any pet cannot be the beneficiary of an estate as they are not a legal person but are instead regarded as a ‘personal chattel’ (s 55(1)(x) of the Administration of Estates Act 1925).

But never fear - there are ways and means for animal lovers to provide for pets in their will:

  • Leave a pet as a legacy, along with a cash sum, to a named individual. The cash gift can be made conditional on the person taking the pet.
  • Leave a gift of the pet and a cash sum to your executors, with a letter of instructions on how you would like the pet to be looked after. The testator can even name the person they would like to look after the pet in the letter of wishes. This option has the advantage of flexibility as the gift will not fail even if the chosen carer is unable or unwilling to act - the executors can simply choose an alternative person or charity to be the recipient of the legacy.
  • Gift to animal welfare charity. Many charities offer a service for taking in pets of deceased persons – although in many cases, the pet must be registered while the person is still alive!
  • Trust for the maintenance of a pet is a valid form of gift (Pettinghall v Pettinghall (1842)). However, the trust must be limited to 21 years, so would not be suitable for an animal that could potentially have a longer life expectancy.
  • Include the pet in a discretionary trust of residue and reference your wishes regarding the pet in a letter of wishes. This option is similar to the gift to the executors with a letter of wishes but has added flexibility if additional funds are required to look after the pet as the discretion of trustees. Also, as the trust would not exist for the sole purpose of caring for the pet, the trust would not be limited to a period of 21 years.

Matters to consider:

  • Do you wish to make provision for a specific pet, or any pet that you own at the date of your death?
  • If you are leaving the pet to a named individual, what do you wish to happen to the pet if that individual predeceases you or is incapable of looking after the pet?
  • Is the sum of money you are leaving sufficient to cover insurance/vets bills etc? If not, the person you have named may be unwilling to take in the pet.
  • If you wish to gift your pet to an animal welfare charity along with a cash sum, there is no guarantee that the cash sum will be used for the maintenance of your pet.

It is a good idea to review your will every three years, or sooner if your circumstances change. For further information on any of the points discussed, contact a member of the Private Client team at Higgs & Sons on 0345 111 5050.


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