Why You Need to Include Your Pets in Your Estate Plan
March 2nd, 2022
Pets are beloved members of the family, and it’s essential to remember them when creating an estate plan. You can’t bequeath an inheritance to your pet in the same way that you would leave property to your children. But you can still provide financially for their care and maintenance to ensure they have a good life when you pass. Importantly, Florida recognizes several options when it comes to planning ahead for your companion animal — including pet trusts.
Estate Planning for Pet Owners: Can You Provide for Your Pet in a Will?
Although you can name a caretaker and address your pet’s needs in your last will and testament, it’s essential to understand that a will has to go through the probate process. Critically, probate can take months, or even longer if the will is contested. Unless other arrangements are made, there would not be anyone to care for the animal in the interim.
Additionally, a will only takes effect when you pass away. This means that having just a will in place would not be helpful if you are still living but become incapacitated and are unable to care for your pet. While a will is an integral component of an estate plan, a better option to ensure your companion animal’s needs are met immediately is an enforceable pet trust.
Establishing a Florida Pet Trust to Provide for Your Pet
Under Florida law, a pet trust can be created for any pet that was alive at the time of your death. The trust instrument will remain in effect for the duration of the animal’s life. Or, if the trust provides for more than one animal, it will be effective until the last animal passes away. You might choose to set up multiple pet trusts if you have several pets with very different financial needs.
A Florida pet trust may also name a trustee — this is the person who will take care of the pet. If no trustee is designated in the instrument, the court may appoint one. However, any person who has an interest in the animal’s welfare may ask the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust or request the removal of an appointed trustee. The trustee will use the funds in the trust in accordance with your wishes to pay for the animal’s care, grooming, veterinary visits, feeding costs, and any other specified costs.
The money in the pet trust must be used for the intended purpose. Unless there is a provision in the trust that specifies otherwise, any amount that exceeds paying for the animal’s care would be distributed to the settlor (if living) or back to their estate. To avoid unintended consequences, you might consider naming a family member, charity, or animal welfare organization as a residual beneficiary of the trust.
Estate Planning for Pet Owners: How to Set Up a Florida Pet Trust
Before you set up a pet trust, you will need to consider your goals for the animal’s care, their specific needs, and the expenses that must be covered. You must also carefully select a trustee who is willing to care for the pet and will be able to carry out the terms of the trust. In addition, you may want to designate a successor trustee in the event the primary caretaker is no longer able to look after the pet.
A Florida pet trust isn’t simply a legal document with instructions regarding the financial aspect of a pet’s care. It also can provide guidance to the trustee concerning the pet’s daily care. Notably, a pet trust can be extremely detailed — it can dictate a schedule for walks in the pet’s favorite park, specify certain food brands, and even identify the pet’s preferred toys.
A few questions to consider when structuring a pet trust can include:
- Do your pets have unique health needs or care requirements that must be specifically addressed?
- Do your pets exhibit any unusual behaviors that a caretaker should know about?
- Does your pet have specific food preferences?
- Do you have a preferred veterinarian for your pet?
- Where will your pets live?
- If you have more than one pet, will they live together?
- What financial resources will be used for the pet’s care?
- Do you have specific wishes concerning the final disposition for your pet?
Another major consideration when you set up a pet trust is microchipping the animal. This can secure the pet’s identity to ensure there is no financial fraud or abuse of the trust’s terms. The chip number should be included in the trust document, along with a photo of your pet.
Contact an Experienced Florida Wills, Trusts, and Estates Attorney
Including your pets in a comprehensive estate plan can allow you to have peace of mind that they will be properly cared for when you pass. A knowledgeable trusts and estates attorney can ensure that the terms of your pet trust are clear and the instrument is enforceable by law. At Waugh PLLC, we assist clients with a wide variety of estate planning matters to meet their objectives. We welcome you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (321) 499-9551 to learn how we can help.
Categories: Estate Planning & Probate Law