Pet Trusts

Oreo Puccini

When you’re putting plans in place to provide for loved ones after you’re gone, don’t forget your pets. How can you make sure that your fur babies get the right care when you’re no longer around to provide it?

Can you write them into your will? Unfortunately, no. Only people can inherit property. However, Florida statute allows the creation of pet trusts. A pet trust gives you a legal way to leave money to a pet. These estate planning vehicles are ideal for people who want to make sure that their pets are well cared for after they are gone.

Before pet trusts, there was no way to make sure that money left for the care of a pet would actually be used to care of the pet. You might write in your will, “I give any dogs in my name at the time of my death to Mr. Smith, and I give Mr. Smith $10,000 each for each dog living at the time of my death.” Despite this language in a person’s will, there was no way to verify that the money left for the pets would be used property. Mr. Smith could take the money allocated for the dogs and then take the dogs to the pet shelter to be euthanized.

A pet trust eliminates that horrifying possibility. It allows you to retain control of the pet’s care after you die by listing who you want to have in charge of your pet. In many cases, it’s a team of people—called a “panel” in the statute. One might be the caretaker. One might be the person who distributes the money. One might be the person who checks on the pet. One might verify that the right pet is getting the care. You can set it up so that the person in charge of the money is separate from the person providing the care. Those checks and balances are important when it comes to making sure your pet treated well.

There are also entities that provide support to people who establish pet trusts. These companies act in fiduciary capacities if you have no one else to ensure that your pet is well taken care of after your death. These companies can serve as trustees and arrange for in-home care so your pet stays in familiar surroundings.

In case you’re wondering, a pet trust isn’t a free-for-all. A clause in the Florida pet trust statute that says that if a judge determines that the amount of money being left to a pet exceeds what the pet’s true needs are, then that money can be taken away from the pet trust. That’s what happened in the Leona Helmsley case. The hotel magnate left umpteen million dollars to her animals, only to have the judge deem the amount excessive and divert the money outside the pet trust.

Could you establish a pet trust for an ant farm? The answer is yes. Actually, that’s not the most unusual situation we’ve encountered. One client had dozens of stray cats outside her home. She wanted to establish a pet trust to care for all of them. In a case like this, you need to be able to identify the cats in the colony with a chip or a tattoo at the time of the death so that the pet trust can benefit only those cats. It’s not easy to do, but it can be done.

If you’re wondering what will happen to your beloved companions after you’re gone, why not look into a pet trust? When you’re ready to get started, we’re here to help. Just give our office a call.

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