The United Kingdom has long been a nation of animal lovers from the Queen’s corgis to Grumpy Cat and as an avid dog lover myself I was shocked to read about the dying wish of a lady in Virginia, USA who wanted to be buried with her dog Emma, a very much alive and barking Shih Tzu mix. It is well recognised that a dog can feel sadness at the loss of their owner but unfortunately for Emma this also meant her fate was sealed and for the executor of the lady’s estate this must have caused a real dilemma.
The Executor in question did, indeed, honour her dying wish in her Will for her dog to be euthanised, cremated and buried with her. So poor Emma was euthanised in March, despite the pleas and protestations of staff at the local animal shelter, where Emma was staying following her owner’s death, who repeatedly urged the owner’s relatives and the Executor to reconsider.
How could this happen?
In England like the United States, a pet such as a dog is regarded in law as a ‘chattel’ i.e. an item of personal property.
Unluckily for Emma this legal definition of her as a chattel meant her owner could leave a clear statement of what she wanted to happen to her chattel, Emma, after death and so ensure they did not have to be separated. However, it is also possible to ensure the welfare and happiness of your pets in your Will. You may have heard tales of millionaires leaving everything to their Persian cat, but this is not allowed under English law. You can instead leave a gift of money to the person who will be looking after your pet which can contribute to their upkeep and vet’s bills. At Hanne & Co. our Private Client department can provide advice and help with planning for your pet’s welfare in your Will.
But not in England surely?
While euthanising a healthy pet is not illegal in England or Wales it does create an ethical dilemma for many pet owners and vets alike. In fact, the British Veterinary Association published the results of a survey in 2016, which revealed that almost all small animal veterinary surgeons had been asked to euthanise healthy pets. Over half said this was not an infrequent occurrence and 98% gave the pet’s behaviour as the reason for seeking this option. Vets are not legally required to euthanise healthy animals at an owner’s request, but after careful consideration a vet may find it in the animal’s best interests to do so. In such circumstances, it would be the decision of the Executor whether to carry out this wish – and whether they could find a willing vet.
A concerned Executor
If an Executor feels unable or unwilling to carry out the wishes of the Deceased, they are able to renounce the role and play no part in dealing with the Estate. A named Executor should always seek legal advice before dealing with an Estate if there is anything they are unsure about.
If you require assistance preparing your Will or are unsure of what your role as an Executor entails please contact one of our experienced Private Client solicitors at Hanne & Co who will be happy to help.
Marie-Claire Long is a trainee solicitor in the Private Client Department at Hanne & Co. LLP