Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of fashion houses Chanel and Fendi, passed away in February 2019, reportedly leaving his multi-million pound fortune to his cat, Choupette, to inherit under the terms of his will.
Whilst many pet-owners may share the desire to bequest a gift to their animals, under the laws of England and Wales, pets are treated as “chattels” or personal property and are not entitled to inherit assets in an estate. If a pet-owner bequeaths a sum of money or asset to their pet in their will, the gift will fail and the money or asset will fall into their residuary estate.
Mr Lagerfeld, who lived in Paris, would not have been able to bequeath his fortune to Choupette under French law as it bears similarity to the laws of England and Wales in this regard. Yet, it is reported that a person may bequeath a gift to a pet in Germany, where Mr Lagerfeld held citizenship.
However, there are ways around the problem in England and Wales. Pet-owners may bequeath gifts to trusted individuals with the wish that the money or asset be used for the benefit of the pet. Alternatively, a pet-owner may bequeath a sum of money or asset to an individual, (a “Trustee”) on the condition that the same is used in conjunction with the Trustee’s care for the pet. Pet-owners looking to leave a sum of money for the benefit of their pet may even provide explicit instructions as to how the money is spent.
Despite this, those interested in establishing a trust for their pet should consider the tax implications of doing so and seek legal advice accordingly. It is also prudent for a pet-owner to discuss their wishes with the individual they would like to look after their pet to avoid confusion after their death.
To ensure that a will is drafted in accordance with your wishes, please telephone an experienced member of the Private Client team on 0845 287 0939 or email us.