Pets are just like family for most people. When a person contemplates the end of their life and plans for it, an important topic to address is how to care for his or her pet. Creating an estate plan for your pet is highly advised if you’re concerned about how your pet would be cared for, funded and treated if it outlives you. The best way to do this is through a Pet Trust.
Because for many people, a pet is part of the family, so not addressing a pet in legal writing means risking family disputes over the pet in the future. Shockingly, around 5-7 million pets enter animal shelters every year after the death of their owner.
Whether you’ve got an adorable kitty, a loyal dog, or an elegant show horse, these estate planning strategies for your pet can help ensure smooth sailing:
Estate Planning for Your Pet in Florida
Although we might consider pets as members of the family, the law considers them as ‘property’. Therefore, they can’t actually be left with money or property directly.
But, you can:
- Utilize estate planning to leave money and assets for the use of the pet by a trusted person.
- Put instructions on how your pet is cared for, and to whom the pet is cared by.
Pets in Your Will
Your will should not include provisions like “I’d like $30,000 to go to my dog”.
But, you can leave money to the caretaker of the pet. For example, “Leave $30,000 to my sister Jane who has agreed to be the caretaker of my dog.”
It’s also wise to consider a backup plan. This should always be discussed with the desired pet caretakers in advance.
For example, “Leave $30,000 to my sister Jane who has agreed to be the caretaker of my dog. This money should be used for the dog. If Jane does not survive me, or is incapable of being the dog caretaker, the second choice is my best friend David Jones”.
In a will, you can also leave instructions for the pet’s care and preferences.
Wills are inexpensive to draft. However, there is no way of ensuring through a will that the funds and instructions are used and followed correctly. To guarantee that, you can use a Pet Trust.
Pet trusts are a great way of designating funds and assets for the care of a pet.
Trusts are entities that hold funds and assets, and can only be used by the Trustee (manager of the trust) for the best interests of the beneficiaries. With a pet trust, the beneficiary is the pet.
In a pet trust, you can leave the legal obligation for the caretaker to correctly use the funds for the pet. If the trustee (the pet’s caretaker) fails to maintain these obligations, they can be sued.
A pet trust should include:
- The name of the pets required to be cared for.
- Name of the caretaker and trustee.
- The amount of money that should be used for pet care.
- How the pet should be cared for.
- A person designated to go to court, if the trust’s terms are violated.
- What should happen to any remaining funds when the pet dies.
- Preferences for the pet, such as treatments, pet food, grooming and pet care.
As such, a trust can be a great tool for creating a legal obligation to care for the pet. The caretaker can’t just use the funds for themselves. Their access to funds are limited for the sole use of the pet. Pet trusts are especially beneficial for pets with long life expectancies.
Are Pet Trusts in Florida Legally Binding?
Yes. Since the update of Florida Statute 736.0408 in recent years, Pet Trusts have been legally binding documents in Florida.
Previously, and in some other states, Pet Trusts had no legal power, meaning courts couldn’t enforce the wishes of the deceased pet owner. Now, a pet in a pet trust is considered a ‘beneficiary’, so the Trustee must act in the pet’s best interests.
How Long Do Pet Trusts Last For?
Pet Trusts will last until they are revoked or until the pet’s death. Of course, you cannot revoke the trust once you’ve passed away so after your death it will remain until the pet also passes away. At that point, the remaining funds will be distributed according to the terms of the trust. For example, you could instruct that the remaining funds be distributed to your surviving family, the caretaker or to a pet charity.
What If You Can’t Find a Pet Caretaker?
If you’re unable to find someone to care for your pet after your death, you can consider leaving your pet to a pet care program. Such as:
- SPCA programs
- Veterinary school programs
- Private animal sanctuaries and rescue organizations
Contact a Pet Trust Attorney Today in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County
If you need any assistance with estate planning for your pet in Florida, then we’d be happy to help.
We welcome you to contact our Florida estate planning attorneys today for a free assessment by an attorney if you have any questions or wish to get started.
Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A. is U.S. News and World Reports Tier 1 law firm in Florida, specializing in Estate Planning & Probate since 1958. With award-winning experienced estate planning attorneys, they can help you create a water-tight estate plan that protects your rights and wishes.