Over the years we’ve heard about the lavish (some would say excessive) inheritances people have left to their pets. Take Gunther, the German shepherd bequeathed millions by German countess Karlotta Liebenstein, who died in 1992. On this side of the pond, consider hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, who disinherited her children and left $12 million to Trouble, her Maltese (the court later gave half of Trouble’s funds to the kids). Most recently, there are suggestions that the late Ivana Trump left a very substantial amount of her fortune to her Yorkshire terrier, Tiger. At this time we don’t know much about her estate, but her friends say she was utterly devoted to her pooch and vastly preferred him to humans. We also know that guests attending her funeral were asked to donate to a local Florida dog charity, Big Dog Ranch Rescue. The late Queen Elizabeth’s dogs are a special case – there’s no doubt they will continue to receive royal treatment for the rest of their lives.
Not super-rich or royal? No matter. You surely love your pet no less than the uber-wealthy love theirs and want to protect your pet if anything happens to you. Millions of homeless animals end up in shelters each year because their owners become ill or pass away without having made provisions for them. The sad fact is that many of these animals will not find new homes: According to the Humane Society of the United States, over two million adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized every year.
You can certainly make informal arrangements for your pet with a relative, a friend, a neighbor. But if you do not have anyone you can really rely on, or if you just want the peace of mind that comes from knowing your pet’s future care is planned out and assured, consider making formal legal arrangements. Here is how to do it.
Florida Pet Trust
You may cherish Fluffy and Fido like a member of the family, but the State of Florida doesn’t see it that way. Under Florida law, your pet is property, which means you cannot legally leave anything directly to your pet in your estate plan. What you can do is make your pet (or pets) the beneficiary of a “Pet Trust.” This is where The Karp Law Firm can assist you.
You may create a pet trust while you are alive, or you can provide for its creation upon your death through your will or revocable trust. You fund the trust with whatever amount of money you reasonably believe is necessary for your pet’s maintenance and welfare for the duration of its life. You should factor in the cost of food, veterinary care, boarding, funds to the pet’s caretaker, even expenses to have your pet cremated or interred when the time comes.
Name the person who will personally care for your pet. It’s advisable to name back-up caretakers, too, just in case. Don’t let this be a surprise for the person you have named! Discuss your plan with the proposed caretaker and make sure he/she is on board with it.
You should also create a separate, nonbinding writing advising the caretaker of the details of your pet’s care. Does Fluffy the feline have allergies requiring a special diet? Does Rover get freaked out by fireworks and is best kept in a separate room with the TV going during July 4? Does Polly the Parrot require certain medication to keep her feathers in good shape? Do you have a preferred veterinarian or groomer? These detailed instructions do NOT belong in the legal document. They belong in the separate writing. This gives you the flexibility and freedom to easily revise your advice going forward if changes occur. To use the aforementioned example, you would want to revise your separate writing if Fluffy develops additional allergies and her diet gets modified.
You must also name a trustee for the trust who will manage the funds and make sure they are being properly expended. Trustees and caretakers are typically compensated for their efforts.
If funds remain in the trust when your pet passes away, the remainder can be distributed to the beneficiaries you name. Many of our clients who create pet trusts leave the remainder to pet-related charities.
You can read the Florida statute relating to pet trusts here.
Contact our office at (561) 625-1100 to discuss setting up a pet trust for your beloved pet. At The Karp Law Firm, we’re all pet lovers!