Estate Planning For Pets

A well-dressed gray-haired woman lovingly hugs her brown and white beagle in a grassy field in the evening sun.

Estate Planning For Pets

Pets provide companionship and unconditional love for their owners. For some pet owners, their pet may be their sole source of love and companionship. Whether their pet is the center of their world or one of many living beings they care about, most pet owners want to ensure their pet is well cared for after the owner dies. However, if they leave money to their pet in their Last Will and Testament, the pet may not be taken care of as the owner hoped. Proper planning and understanding the laws around estate planning for pets is necessary to ensure that your beloved furry, feathery, or scaly loved one is cared for after you have died. If you require assistance in planning for your pet’s care after your death or understanding what your options are, a seasoned Florida estate planning attorney with Loughlin Law, P.A. may be able to answer your questions. Call (561) 677-8384 to schedule a consultation and review your legal pet estate planning options.

Who Gets Your Pet If You Do Not Have a Plan in Place?

While many pet owners feel their pet is another family member, Florida law does not see them the same way. Florida law sees pets as property. Like any other property, pet owners must create a plan for what happens to their pet after the owner dies.

If no arrangements are made in a pet owner’s estate plan, their pet will go to the residuary beneficiary if there is a will. This means the person who gets all the individual’s property that is not in a trust or left explicitly to another individual gets the pet. If there is no will, the pet is distributed with the rest of the pet owner’s property according to Florida §732.101, which outlines how property is distributed when an individual dies without a will or intestate.

Can You Leave Money for Pets?

In Florida, as in most other states, pet owners cannot use their will to leave money or property to their pet itself. If a pet owner leaves a sum of money or the family home to their cat, Fluffy, the probate court will distribute that sum of money or the family home, along with the cat, as part of their residuary estate.

Despite this restriction, there are ways that pet owners can leave money for their pets’ care after they have died. They can use their will to provide for the pet by giving it to a trusted caregiver. They can also use Florida’s pet trust laws to establish a trust that will provide for the pet’s welfare.

3 Ways to Plan for Your Pet in Your Estate Plan

While there may be other options, pet owners can handle estate planning for pets in three more common ways. Pet owners can make the pet a testamentary gift, create a pet trust, or enroll the pet in a pet foster program.

Testamentary Gift

To make the pet a testamentary gift, the pet owner includes the pet in their will as an outright gift to a trusted caregiver. They can do this with or without gifting money for the animal’s care. They can also provide limited instructions for how the pet should be cared for. To leave more detailed instructions, the owner would need to leave a separate document or verbally inform the named caregiver.

Like any testamentary gift, the beneficiary is not guaranteed to keep the pet. The beneficiary is not required by any laws to keep the pet. They can get rid of the pet and keep any money intended for its care. Additionally, because a will only takes effect when the individual dies, this does not protect a pet if its owner is disabled or otherwise unable to care for the pet or in a natural disaster.

Create a Pet Trust

Pet trusts provide the funds for pet care after the death of the pet’s owner or during the owner’s disability or other incapacity to care for the animal. Pet trusts are designed to terminate on the animal’s death or, in a trust meant to care for multiple pets, on the death of the last surviving animal. Any remaining funds after the pet’s death are distributed to beneficiaries named by the pet owner when they created the trust. If you want to make a pet trust as part of your estate plan, a knowledgeable attorney with Loughlin Law, P.A. may be able to assist you.

While other trusts often have some tax benefits, pet trusts do not. This is because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers beneficiaries to be “heirs, legatees, or devisees” and defines all of those to be a person. Because pets are not considered a person by the IRS, they cannot be taxed. Therefore, the IRS taxes the pet trust itself instead. The pet trust is included in the gross taxable estate, and all income generated by the pet trust is taxable per IRS Rev Rul 76-486.

Pet Foster Program

A pet foster program is a specific type of rescue, typically a nonprofit, that will take a deceased individual’s pet and either keep it at the rescue or in a foster home they have carefully vetted until they can find the pet a new permanent home. These programs often require enrollment of the pet before the owner’s death, but in some cases, they can be named in the individual’s will, or the personal representative of the estate can contact the program to take the pet. These programs often require a bequest or financial donation in exchange for agreeing to ensure a loving and safe environment for the pet.

These programs may or may not provide care for animals whose owners are incapacitated or temporarily need assistance caring for their pets. Additionally, pet owners should thoroughly investigate these programs and visit the program’s physical location to ensure the program is a legitimate rescue and that they are satisfied their pet would be well cared for after the owner’s death.

Pros and Cons of a Florida Pet Trust

Pet trusts can be an excellent way to provide for a pet’s welfare after the owner has died. However, pet trusts also have disadvantages that could make them a less viable option for some pet owners. When estate planning for pets, it is prudent to consider all options before settling on one to provide for those pets after the owner’s death.

Pros of a Pet Trust

A pet trust provides care for the animal and eases the new financial burden on the named caregiver. When the owner is incapacitated or otherwise unable to care for the pet but still alive, the trust can operate and ensure the animal is provided for. When the last surviving animal named in the trust has died, the trust terminates, and any remaining funds are distributed to the remainder beneficiaries named by the donor when the trust was created.

A pet trust allows the pet owner to be highly detailed and specific about caring for the pet, such as feeding them a particular organic brand of food. They can use the trust documents to communicate their pet’s likes and dislikes, habits, personalities, and other details that will assist the pet’s new caregiver in better caring for the animal.

Cons of a Pet Trust

The pet type and the life expectancy of the pet factors into the cost of a pet trust. Trusts for cats or dogs, which typically have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years, are often less expensive than those for pets like horses, turtles, snakes, or birds, which can live for 25 to 80 years or even longer. The administrative tasks and fees associated with a pet trust may not make it cost-effective if the trust is minimal. The high fixed costs may be too much for the small trust to handle. Additionally, because it is not charitable in nature, the trust will be subject to federal income tax.

However, if a pet owner underestimates the cost of caring for their pet and leaves too little money in the trust, the trust will close while the pet is still alive. At that point, Florida §737.116 will decide what happens to the pet, which may not be what the owner would have wanted. Additionally, though it rarely happens, a pet trust can be challenged, and if the challenge is successful, the pet may not be cared for the way the owner intended. Finally, even without these drawbacks, pet owners should consider that there may be other better ways they can ensure their pets are taken care of after the owner’s death before moving forward with a pet trust.

How an Attorney Can Assist With Estate Planning for Pets

As a pet owner, you love your pet and want to ensure they continue receiving the same love, affection, and care you gave them after you died. However, you must rely on others since you will not be around to ensure that happens. Providing money and instructions for the pet’s care makes it easier for a new caregiver to provide for your pet the way you intend. However deciding how to give those instructions and money can be complicated. Can you trust your caregiver enough to name them and provide them with the pet in your will or do you need a trust to ensure that someone takes care of your pet exactly the way you want and only uses the money for the pet’s care? Is there another option more suited to your situation? Estate planning for pets can be just as tricky as planning for the care of minor children. An experienced Florida estate planning attorney like those with Loughlin Law, P.A. may be able to assist you in considering all your options, determining which ones are most appropriate for your circumstances, and create the paperwork to ensure your pet is well-loved even after you are gone. Call (561) 677-8384 to develop or review your estate plan and ensure your pet is cared for.

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