One of the most forgotten assets, or even a beneficiary, in estate planning is a person’s pet. Many clients have dogs and cats that are close members of the family and need a way to be taken care of after the owner passes. With a pet trust, a person may leave money to be used for the care and support of the pet.
Florida, along with most other states, currently allows individuals to create a trust with no human beneficiary. These trusts are usually drafted to take effect when the owner dies. A pet trust can be created to care for one of more animals that are living during the testator’s lifetime. The trust will end when the last surviving animal dies and usually cannot include animal offspring under most trust codes.
The main reason we advocate pet trusts is because the trust will name a trustee, or manager of the trust, to take care of the animals after the owner passes away. This person will have custody of the pet and will ensure it has the daily care needed. This gives the owner piece of mind that a loved pet will be taken care of no matter what happens.
The trustee named in the pet trust should be a person the owner trusts and is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for the pet. For this reason we usually ask our clients to name an alternate trustee in the even the named trustee is unable to serve as the trustee or decides he or she no longer wants the responsibility. Further, they will trust can provide caretaking provisions, which can give the trustee or the caretaker specific instructions on how to care for the pet. For instance, an owner could specify the dog only be served its favorite food and to be walked at least 3 times a day.
The trust should also be funded to give the trustee the means to care for the pet. The trust should have enough money to feed and groom the animal, and to also provide it with yearly medical care. Recent case law suggests that testators not too extravagantly fund these trusts because a judge is likely to reduce the trust if it is challenged by the estate’s beneficiaries. In Lyon Estate, 67 PA. D. & C. 2d 474 (1974), a Pennsylvania woman created a trust in 1974 for the care of four horses and six dogs that made up to $50,000 a year available for the animal’s care. The family challenged the will and the judge modified it to allow any excess funds to be given to other beneficiaries named in the will. To avoid a pet trust being challenged in court, we recommend the trust only contain a reasonable amount of funds to ensure the animal is properly taken care of.
To receive more Florida estate planning information, please contact The Law Office of David Goldman PLLC at 904-685-1200.