June 30, 2019

When Planning for Your Family’s Future, “Paws” to Remember the Four-Legged Members

By Jennifer L. Fulton, Esquire
Bresky Law

For many of us, our pets are beloved members of the family.  And sometimes they outlive us.  A cockatoo or Amazonian parrot, for example, can easily live for 75 years, and even dogs and cats often live up to 20 years.  What happens to them when we are gone? When doing our estate planning, we in Florida have the option to plan for the care of our pet after we pass, with a pet trust.

A pet trust is not a new idea (remember the Disney movie, The Aristocats?), but there was a time when pets could not be true beneficiaries under Florida law.  Today, however, a pet trust allows the pet to be the beneficiary of the trust during the pet’s lifetime. A pet, like a child, cannot care for itself, and needs a team to take care of it.  When planning for your pet, it is important to pick the right people or institutions for the job.

When considering a pet trust, you would want to give thought to the selection of the caretaker, the trustee, a trust protector, and people to serve on an animal care panel.

    The caretaker is the person or institution who would physically care for your pet after your passing, or if you became unable to care for it during your lifetime. It is a good idea to have a successor in mind as well.
    The trustee would handle the money to make sure it’s used for your pet’s care. This could be an individual or an institution.  If it is an individual, it is a good idea to have a successor in mind.
    A trust protector would have the ability to remove either the trustee or the caretaker if they were not following the terms of the trust. Since your pet does not have a voice, the trust protector can make sure the caretaker and trustee are applying the money for the benefit of your pet, and taking good care of it.
    An animal care panel allows professionals such as a veterinarian, and others who have the best interest of your pet at heart, to monitor your pet’s health and wellbeing. They may make home visits and emergency health decisions.

It is also important to know the true cost of caring for your pet and plan accordingly.  Review past medical, grooming, food, daycare and other expenses, to determine an amount that will suffice for your pet’s continued care.  Also take into account compensation for the professionals named in your trust, especially the caregiver, which may include the value of rent for a live-in caregiver to live in the home, if your pet continues to live in your home after your death. If the trust is still funded at the end of the pet’s life, the remainder can always go to a named charity, family members, or other chosen individuals.

If you are concerned about the welfare of your pet after you pass, talk with an estate planning attorney about setting up a pet trust that ensures that your pet is well cared for after you are gone. 

Jennifer L. Fulton, Esq. is an attorney at The Law Offices of Robin Bresky (www.breskylegal.com) focusing on Estate Planning, Probate, and Estate and Trust Administration. A member of the Florida Bar since 1996 with a Juris Doctor degree from the Nova Southeastern University, Fulton works with clients to plan for the milestones of life (college, “adulting”, marriage, children, grandchildren, aging parents, pre- and post-divorce, loss of a spouse, aging, diminished mental capacity) and administration upon death. She can be reached at 561-994-6273 or EstatePlanning@BreskyLegal.com.