Don’t Forget about Your Closest Companion – Your Pet
Animals can bring their owners years of joy and companionship that are hard to quantify or adequately describe. Given how much pets mean to owners, determining what will happen to them after one dies is important to the pet’s wellbeing and long-term care. Factoring pets into an estate plan may not be an obvious component of a person’s legacy, but failing to plan in advance for who will care for the pet, and where funds will come from to cover the costs of care, could result in family members giving the pet away or turning it over to a shelter if an arrangement cannot be found. Pet owners likely do not want this result, as many view them to be members of the family. Thankfully, Florida does have a mechanism for creating a trust to provide for the care and maintenance of the animal during its life, and a discussion of how to create a pet trust that fully addresses the present and future needs of the animal will follow below.
Florida’s Pet Trust
Historically, pet trusts were not enforceable because animals were not recognized as legitimate beneficiaries. However, most States, including Florida, now have laws that allow for the establishment of a trust to benefit the care and maintenance of a person’s pet. In addition to providing for the animal’s care once the owner is gone, a trust can also be used for an intermediary situation, such as an illness or incapacity, that prevents an owner from fulfilling his/her caretaking duties. The trust is only valid for pets alive at the time of the settlor’s death, and remains in effect until the last animal named in the trust dies. Any funds remaining upon the animal’s death are distributed according to the trust document, typically to heirs or a charitable organization.
The trustee, designated by the creator in the trust document or appointed by the court, may be appointed to care for the animal and/or manage trust funds. Ideally though, the caregiver and trustee are different individuals, which cuts down on the ability of family members to claim the money is not being spent for the benefit of the animal. In either case, it is essential to select a person to care for the animal that will provide the same level of love and attention the original owner displayed. Further, ensure the person chosen is able and willing to assume this responsibility, and also name alternative/successor caretakers in the event the first caretaker is unavailable or unwilling. In addition to the trustee and caretaker, the statute provides for the appointment of a trust protector who is charged with enforcing the trust and ensuring the trust funds are going towards the pet’s benefit. This individual should be granted power to remove a trustee if violations of fiduciary duties occur, a check on the opportunity to abuse this position.
Funding the Trust
Beyond deciding who will fulfill the roles of trustee and caregiver, the trust creator must also determine how to fund the trust, so it may operate as intended. Unfunded trusts are invalid and unenforceable, which in the case of a pet, means the animal’s fate is out the owner’s hands. These trusts can be funded during the creator’s lifetime, or following death through provisions in a will, termed a testamentary trust. An experienced estate planning attorney can assist with identifying the arrangement that would best meet the needs of the pet owner, specifically, which assets will provide the needed liquidity and how to best preserve them during the pet’s life.
Get Legal Advice
Trusts are an important estate planning tool that allow a person flexibility in how their legacy will be entrusted to the next generation. Attorney William Rambaum has years of experience helping Florida seniors protect the fruits of their life’s work. Contact his Oldsmar law office to learn what he can offer you.