Pets and Estate Planning

By: Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

When we think about estate planning, we generally focus on our family and friends, but what about our pets that may outlive us? We would like to think that our family and friends will want to care for our pets upon our death, but this is not guaranteed. This article is a general overview of steps that you can take to more effectively ensure that your pets will be cared for in conformance with your wishes during your lifetime and upon your death.

Q: My friend expressed that she will care for my pets if anything were to happen to me, should I still include my pets’ care in my estate planning?

A: Yes, in your Last Will and Testament (“Will”), you should give your pets to your friend. However, keep in mind that your friend may ultimately change her mind, or alternatively, your friend may predecease you. At the very least, you should consider naming alternates to care for your pets.

Q: How does a Will effectuate my wishes concerning my pets’ care?

A: A Will reflects your intent concerning your pets’ care, but the directives are not enforceable. While we may consider our pets a companion or a member of our family, by law, our pets are considered property. Pets can be conveyed through a Will like any other type of property that you may own. However, as property, a beneficiary can also disclaim or refuse to accept ownership of your pet. For example, in your Will, you give your pets to your friend, but shortly after your death, your friend discovers that she is severely allergic to your pets, and a result, she refuses to accept ownership of your pets.

Q: Is there anything else I should be concerned about if I were to rely solely on a Will regarding my pets’ care?

A:  Yes.  A Will does not consider the care of your pets during your lifetime and may not be immediately effective upon your death. For instance, you are determined to be incapacitated and you are subsequently admitted to a nursing home. The Will does not direct your pets’ care while you are incapacitated. Further, if your estate is subject to probate, a Will does not direct your pets’ care during the probate process. For these reasons, you may want to supplement your Will with a pet trust.

Q: What is a pet trust?

A: Florida, like most states, has adopted pet trust statutes. A pet trust is a legal arrangement concerning your pets’ care during your lifetime and upon your death. The trustee of a pet trust will hold funds for the benefit of your pets and will disburse such funds to a designated caregiver of your pets. The benefit of a pet trust, in contrast to a Will, is that a pet trust is enforceable, specific, effective during your lifetime and upon your death, and allows you to have control of your pets’ care with the oversight of a trustee after your death. In Florida, a pet trust will not terminate until your pets’ death, unless you direct otherwise.

Q: Is there anything else I should consider when formulating my pets’ care in my estate planning documents?

A: Yes. Due to the reasons discussed above, consider naming a rescue organization as a last resort to care for your pet. Additionally, you may want to consider naming not only the pets that you currently have, but also reference any pets you may acquire in the future. Finally, a pet trust can be as general or specific as you desire. For example, in a pet trust, you could direct the type of food your pets will be fed or which veterinarian will be used for your pets’ health issues.

If you wish to direct your pets’ care in your estate planning documents or wish to set up a pet trust, it is advisable to seek counsel from an estate planning attorney.

Attorney or Title Company to Handle a Closing

By:   Kevin R. Albaum and Anthony A. Velardi
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: The Personal Representative (Florida’s term for an Executor) of my father’s estate is selling my father’s home to a family member. What is the process for this transaction, and should the probate attorney or a title company handle the closing?

A: As an initial matter, the probate attorney should review your father’s Last Will and Testament and determine whether the Personal Representative has the power to sell the home. The probate attorney should ensure that all individuals with an interest in the home have agreed to the transaction and sale price before proceeding with the closing. The probate attorney will need to confirm that there is no surviving spouse or minor child that may have retained homestead rights to your father’s home. A written agreement between estate beneficiaries may need to be drafted by the probate attorney in some circumstances in order to comply with Florida law.

For closing on the transaction, there are multiple benefits to using a probate attorney (if also a title agent) over a title company. The probate attorney is licensed by the Florida Bar and can therefore provide legal advice. Unless the title company has a licensed attorney on staff, the title agent cannot provide legal advice. Keeping the existing probate attorney also ensures that the law firm closing the transaction is aware of the history of the estate and any possible homestead issues and creditor claims against the estate. As the probate attorney is personally handling the estate, he would easily be able to obtain and record various legal documents when needed such as the Letters of Administration, Order Admitting Will to Probate and Order Appointing Personal Representative, and the Affidavit of No Florida Estate Tax Due, if filed.

Although title companies may charge less than attorneys to handle a closing, our experience is that the costs are often comparable.

 

The November 5th edition of “The Law” will discuss land trusts and whether to use them when purchasing property.

 Kevin Albaum is an estate planning and elder law attorney, and Anthony Velardi is a real estate attorney and title agent, both with the law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A., which offers probate, real estate title and closing, and other services. Questions can be submitted online to thelaw@clarkcampbell-law.com.

 

Anthony Velardi

Anthony Velardi

Anthony was born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and attended Pine Crest School from the 5th grade until he graduated in June 2001 with honors. During high school, Anthony played football and baseball and was a member of the powerlifting and track and field teams.

Anthony attended Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida and obtained his degree of Juris Doctor in May, 2009. While attending Stetson, Anthony served as Vice-President of the Christian Legal Society and led Bible studies for fellow Stetson students and organized various events throughout the year.

During his third year of law school, Anthony interned for immigration attorney O. Frank Valladares, and while working for Mr. Valladares, Anthony had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic with Project Child, a non-profit organization run by Mr. Valladares. Anthony also worked as a teaching assistant for Professor Jeffrey J. Minneti with the Academic Success Workshop for first year students.
Anthony Velardi

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Kevin Albaum

Kevin Albaum

Kevin Albaum was born and raised in Tarpon Springs, Florida. He grew up spending a lot of time on the water either boating, fishing, wakeboarding, or jetskiing. Kevin earned his bachelor’s degree at Florida State University where he competed for FSU’s mock trial team across the country. Immediately upon graduation, he enrolled at Stetson University’s College of Law in Gulfport, Florida due to their specialty program in elder law and his passion for that specific field of the law.

Kevin moved to Lakeland, Florida to join Clark, Campbell, Lancaster, and Munson where he practices in the areas of: elder law, guardianship, estate planning, trust administration, and Medicaid. Since moving to Lakeland, he has become involved with the Alzheimer’s Association Walk Committee, EMERGE Lakeland, and VISTE.
Kevin Albaum