Pooch and kitty cat, life’s best friends! Estate planning for pets

Pet Estate Planning

Leaving millions of dollars in a will for a pet seems ludicrous. For example, Leona Helmsley’s will made her pet, Trouble, the richest dog in the world—she bequeathed the Maltese twelve million dollars while leaving most of her family members with nothing. But pet estate planning is possible and in many cases practical. Similar to human beneficiary trusts, pet trusts may be drafted to provide legal instructions for the care of a dearly loved pet after its owner’s death. While pets are legally categorized as property, many people consider their pets companions—even family members. Without legal arrangements, a pet is often placed in a shelter and faces abandonment or euthanasia. Finding out what can be included in a pet trust and how it can be secured can help protect a pet from future uncertainty.

Florida law explicitly allows a trust to be created for a pet.  Under Florida Statute §736.0408, the trust may be created during the settlor’s lifetime and it terminates upon the death of the pet or, if more than one pet is provided for, upon the death of the last surviving pet. However, many important factors and details must be considered when drafting a will or trust for a pet, as significant problems arise when administering the will or trust.

The first thing to consider in a pet trust is whether certain terms are legally enforceable. According to the American Bar Association, constructing enforceable documents that ensure a pet’s continuing care is “relatively new.”  . Even Leona Helmsley needed a better estate planning attorney, as many instructions in her will went unheeded and a judge cut down Trouble’s inheritance to two million dollars. To ensure one’s wishes regarding their pet, securing a combination of legal documents may be the best option. Unfortunately for Ms. Helmsley, merely including instructions for pet care in a will may not be enough. For example, will instructions are not enforceable because wills distribute property. Therefore, instructions as to how a pet should be cared for do not have to be followed. This means that a will may bestow a pet and its funds upon a certain person, but it does guarantee that the pet’s needs will be met. Without something more, like a trust, a friend or family member could legally abandon the pet and keep the money. If pet owners want to ensure a pet’s placement and specific care, these provisions should be supplemented by multiple legal agreements, e.g., including pet care in both a will and a pet trust.

Pet estate planning may seem trivial but it could be very beneficial for a beloved companion. Important details must be included and certain steps must be followed to guarantee one’s wishes for his or her pet’s care and protection. However, with the right probate attorney and legal advice, a pet’s future can be secured.

The foregoing provides a brief overview of pet estate planning in Florida.  Those interested in more information on the topic should consult an attorney.  Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys of Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are ready, willing, and able to assist with your estate planning needs.