Estate Planning and Beloved Pets
Many people consider pets to be members of their family. They want to ensure that their pets are cared for after their death. A direct gift of money or other property to an animal is not recognized, however, since a pet is considered property under the law. Thus, a deceased individual’s attempt to make a direct testamentary gift to a pet is not going to work.
The importance of pets in our lives is shown by the fact that 12 to 27 percent of pet owners include pets in their wills. As time goes on, it is becoming clear from a legal standpoint how to make sure your pet is well-provided for in the event of your death.
For example, in Phillips v. Estate of Holzmann, a testator left $25,000 in her will to her friend for the care and shelter of her two dogs. Shortly after the testator’s death, the dogs were euthanized for health reasons. As a result, the testator’s parents petitioned to have the $25,000 returned to the estate. Looking at the intent of the testator, the Florida court found that she had unambiguously directed that the money was for the benefit of her dogs, not her friend. It was clear that the testator had intended to establish an honorary trust, but failed to do so, since the will did not contain the traditional requirement that the terms can be enforced. Nonetheless, the court ordered all remaining funds returned to the estate since the dogs were dead and the funds could not be used for their designated purpose.
Creating an enforceable trust for the care of an animal is a viable and practical option. Trusts take effect quickly in the event of the owner’s death or incapacitation compared with the execution of a will. The amount of money in the trust may depend on the age and needs of that particular animal. The estate plan should provide instructions on how to fund the pet trust.
Information provided is of a general nature and does not act as a substitute for a personal discussion with an estate planning attorney. Your circumstances may create different legal opportunities.