Taking Care of Your Pet after Death
When setting up a trust or drafting a will, it is natural to think about how to best provide for the family members left behind, but there may be an additional part of the family that until recently was rarely considered – pets. Pets today are not treated or viewed the way they were 20 years ago. Now, pets are considered members of the family and receive the love and attention that was once reserved for children. This different viewpoint is seen in the proliferation of organic pet food, posh pet hotels and medical treatment options that rival those offered to humans. One segment of the population that has particular attachment to their pets is the elderly. Pets often provide companionship and fill in the gap that may exist for those that do not have family or friends nearby. One unfortunate byproduct of the relationship between an older person and a pet is the likelihood that the pet will outlive its owner, and unless another family member or friend is willing take in the animal, it often ends up in a shelter where it is ultimately euthanized. This is certainly not the outcome the owner wanted for his/her pet and is unfair to an animal that would otherwise live for several more years. One way to head off this sad ending is to set up a trust or endowment to ensure your pet continues to have a good life once you are gone.
Florida law permits a person to set up a trust for the care of his/her animal during the person’s lifetime and/or after death. The trust terminates once the animal, or if there is more than one animal, after the last animal, named in the trust dies. The enforcement of the trust can be placed in the hands of someone named in the trust itself, but if no one is appointed, a court may name someone. In addition, anyone with an interest in the animal can ask a court to appoint someone to carry out the terms of the trust or request removal of the person appointed. Ideally, a caretaker is named in the trust document, including an alternate if the first is unavailable, with directions on how to care for the animal and how any remaining funds left at the animal’s death should be treated. This last point is important because if the trust document does not specify what to do with excess property, it will revert to the creator’s estate and may be distributed to persons or organizations the creator would not want.
Another way to secure care for a pet after the death of the owner is to include a bequest, or gift, in a will directly in the pet’s name or to an animal organization that cares for pets in the event of an owner’s death or incapacity. The drawback to using a will is the provisions contained within it are not enforced until the will goes through a legal process called probate. This process can take months and leave the animal in limbo while the administration of the will proceeds. If an owner wants to use the will option, it is best to arrange a temporary caregiver to ensure the pet’s needs are met while the will works through the legal system.
Contact an Estate Attorney
There are many considerations that go into creating an estate plan, and the final plan developed will vary by person based on personal preference, family circumstances, and the type of property involved. An estate attorney can guide you to the estate plan the best works for you and your family. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. offers estate planning services that take into account family law and business issues that could affect what your family receives. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation.