It would be nice to think that you can get all your affairs in order before you die.
In an ideal world, you could rehome your homes at your leisure and die knowing that they have gone to a good home.
Sadly, not all of us have those opportunities. Sudden or accidental death can leave those you left behind sorting out some very complex matters unless you have given your last will and testament careful thought.
Throughout our lives we occasionally have to make tough calls about horses too frail, ill or injured to carry on. At the time the decision can be very hard indeed, but few owners ever regret ending a horse’s suffering, even though they may sorely miss the animal’s companionship.
Ironically, surprisingly few of us make calls about what should happen to our horses – or cats, dogs, or other pets – in the event of our deaths.
What do you want to happen to your horses?
If you want to provide for the ongoing care of your animals, make provision for it in your will.
It’s important that you do not leave money or assets in your will directly to your horses or other pets.
Almost universally, animals are considered property and not legal entities such as a person, company or trust. You cannot therefore leave money to a piece of “property”.
However, as they are property, there is certainly nothing stopping you making provision in your will for the proper ongoing care, sale, or gifting of the animals.
What you must do is leave the money to meet your wishes to a designated person – or other aceptable legal entity which your lawyer can advise you on – with the instruction that the money be used for this purpose. Be specific and put in writing what you want done with the animals.
You should discuss the situation in some detail with the person you intend passing this responsibility to. What are their circumstances? Where could the horses graze if your property is sold?
The person given the responsibility need not be the executor of the will. It will normally be best to give the responsibility to someone with an understanding and empathy for horses.
Above all else, be realistic. It’s understandably pointless leaving $500 for the ongoing care of a five-year-old horse with potentially 25 years of life left.
Likewise, there would seem little point in setting up a trust with $1 million to care for your small herd, when they may graze away the rest of their lives without fufilling their true potential as hacks, showjumpers, or whatever purpose you originally bred them for.
If you have limited means, leave a sum for reasonable ongoing care while new homes are found for the horses. Allow a sum for the advertising or marketing of the horses. You can also stipulate what happens to the leftover money, so there be some “change” from this exercise.
Seek legal advice in preparing your will, as how you word your wishes can be crucial in getting them fulfilled.
Finally, don’t forget to revisit and update your will regularly. Circumstances change, people die, horses die (or more arrive).
You need ensure that your will meets your current circumstances and hasn’t become outdated.