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.