Pet Trust: Can You Leave your Fortune to Fido?
Every few years, a—shall we say, eccentric—wealthy person dies and leaves their entire estate to their dog. Leona Helmsley, as one example, left her gigantic estate to her dog in 2011, cutting out most of her family. Of course, a lawsuit was the result and Leona’s gift to her dog was reduced.
Leona isn’t alone. Countess Carlotta Liebenstein left enough money to her dog for it to be passed down to the dog’s puppies and to buy entire mansions to house the dogs. When you’re richer than Croesus, it seems reasonable to make your dog an heiress.
Extreme wealth and eccentricity aside, what happens to your pet after you die can be a matter of great concern. It’s natural to want to be sure that your animal is not only cared for, but has a good life after you’re gone. We treat our pets like family, so planning for their care matters to us.
Sorry Fido, no inheritance for you
To be clear, it’s not actually possible to leave your estate to your pet. What you can do is leave money for the pet’s care in a trust (legal in all states but Minnesota), which immediately becomes active upon your death. You must name a trustee who will manage the funds in the trust and spend them for your pet’s needs. Legally, your pet counts as personal property, so you can either name someone who will get your pet in your will or you can state that the pet goes into the trust and the trustee will manage the its care.
The trust will provide for the pet’s needs for the rest of its life. It’s a good idea to specify what will happen to the money that remains in the trust after your pet’s life. You might give it to your pet’s caregiver or a relative, or you might donate it to an animal charity. Wealthy socialite Brooke Astor left a bequest to a charity in her will to help provide care for the pets of poor and elderly people.
How much does a pet trust cost?
There is no minimum amount required to establish a pet trust, but keep in mind that you need to have enough money to cover the expenses of setting up the trust (a simple legal document does this and costs a couple hundred dollars) and funds to pay for the trust’s costs (administrative fees, which may be almost nothing if you name a friend or family member as trustee).
Be sure to put enough money in the trust to pay for the animal’s veterinary care, food, grooming, toys, and for things like boarding and dog walking. You may need to include money to pay for a caregiver if no one close to you is willing to do it for free. The average amount placed in a pet trust is between $15,000 and $20,000.
Taking your pet with you
Some people ask that their pet be euthanized when they die, but most courts will not uphold this request if the pet is in good health. Instead, make arrangements so that your pet can live a healthy and happy life.
Protections for pets
In addition to setting aside some money for your pet, you can take other steps to protect your furry, feathered, or scaly friend. Designate two friends or relatives who are willing and able to care for your pet if something unexpected happens to you. Make sure that they have a key to your house, know who your vet is, and know your pet’s medications and feeding information. In addition to this, put an alert card like this one from ASPCA in your wallet asking that these people be called in case of an emergency.
If you love your pets, you want them to be healthy and happy after your death. With a little planning, you can be certain your pet will be well cared for in your absence.
Learn more about pet-friendly senior living here.
Written by Brette Sember
Brette Sember (www.brettesember.com) is a former attorney and author of more than 40 books, including The Divorce Organizer & Planner, The Complete Divorce, and How to Parent with Your Ex. She writes often about law, parenting, food, travel, health, and more. Brette also writes for AvvoStories, brought to you by Avvo, the leading online legal marketplace connecting consumers and lawyers. Avvo’s free Q&A forum—with more than 9 million questions and answers—along with on-demand legal services that provide professional counsel for a fixed cost, make legal faster and easier.