Planning for Your Pet When You’re Gone
In considering end of life planning, we often think of what will become of our assets and belongings, and possibly, who will be trusted or gifted with our assets. But one asset may not often get enough attention—our pets.
Can a pet be left to someone in a will? How can you plan to make sure that your pet is protected and taken care of if you pass? Florida law does present some options.
Problems With Pet Planning
The biggest problem when it comes to pets is that under Florida law, pets are property. They can’t inherit money. If they’re killed, you can’t sue for emotional damages. There’s no pet custody disputes when partners divorce. Under all areas of Florida law, they’re property like your TV or your car.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect them. Nothing in Florida law prohibits you from leaving a pet with someone you trust in a will (another reason to have an actual written will, even if you have no property of monetary value to leave).
Still, that doesn’t mean that whomever you leave your pet to has to care for them, nor does it help them care for your pet financially. That has to be done with a pet trust.
Florida’s Pet Trusts
In 2002, Florida passed laws recognizing pet trusts, authorizing their use, and providing mechanisms for enforcement.
A “pet trustee” can be designated—this is the person assigned to care for the pet and who will use any money given towards its care (although you can designate one person to care for the pet, and a separate person to administer and distribute any funds in the trust). The law even allows you to appoint a “trust protector,” who can force the trustee to follow his or her obligations if they are not being fulfilled.
Pet trusts aren’t simple documents. All aspects of a pet’s care has to be predetermined, in order to avoid disputes later on. Where will the pet get veterinary care? What happens if the pet’s new owner gets sick or disabled? Where will it stay when the trustee is out of town? And how will the pet be laid to rest upon death?
Instead of leaving a pet with a particular person, you can also designate someone that will find a loving home for your animal, and leave it up to him or her to find such a placement.
Leaving Funds for Pet Care
Determining how much money to leave in trust can also present difficulties. The age and anticipated health needs of the pet need to be considered. You also may want to consider a small payment to the new caregiver. There are also pros and cons to giving the caregiver all the funds all at once, as opposed to having it distributed on a periodic basis.
Remember that if you’re leaving a substantial sum to your pets and their care, and you have surviving relatives, you’ll want to make your intentions clear and in writing. Relatives tend to initiate litigation when a large sum is left to pets instead of them, where the deceased’s intentions are ambiguous.
End of life and disability planning is for you, your family, and your beloved pets. Make sure everyone is taken care of and that your intentions are clear. Contact Tampa will, probate and tax attorney David Toback to discuss your situation.