For many Florida residents, their top estate planning priority is providing for their spouse or children. But what about your pet? After all, it is not unusual for an animal to outlive their human master. Indeed, certain common pets such as parrots can live for decades. So what is the best way to ensure your most faithful, non-human companions are taken care of in your will or trust?
How a Florida Pet Trust Works
First, let’s dispel a common myth: You cannot actually name your pet as a beneficiary of your estate. You sometimes hear stories about people “leaving their estate to their cat.” But as far as probate law is concerned, animals are property and cannot inherit anything.
What you can do, however, is create a special “pet trust.” This is just what it sounds like: A trust established for the benefit of a pet. Basically, you leave a sum of money or other property to a (human) trustee. The trustee then uses that property to care for your pet after you die or if you become incapacitated.
A pet trust may also name someone to actually take custody or possession of your pet. This need not be the same person as the trustee. If you create a pet trust, you could name the executor of your estate to serve as trustee and another person to act as “guardian” of the pet. You would then instruct the trustee on when and how to use the trust’s assets. For example, you might authorize the trustee to pay the pet guardian a fixed sum every month to defray their costs of caring for the animal.
Note that while we refer to a “pet trust,” you do not necessarily have to create a separate document. Many people include language creating a pet trust in their wills. This means the pet trust itself does not come into existence until after you die. But you can also setup a trust separately from your will that can take effect if you become ill or disabled and can no longer care for your pet yourself.
How Long Does a Pet Trust Last?
Florida law explicitly recognizes pet trusts. But there are some limits on how such trusts can operate. Under Florida Statutes, any pet trust “terminates on the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime, on the death of the last surviving animal.” This basically means the trust cannot continue indefinitely.
The law also permits anyone “having an interest in the welfare of the animal” to ask a judge to remove the trustee or otherwise enforce the terms of the trust if a dispute arises. In some cases, such outside intervention may be necessary if the person you name as trustee or guardian becomes unable to serve
in those roles.
These are just some of the issues you need to consider when setting up a pet trust. An experienced Fort Myers estate planning lawyer can offer you advice tailored to your specific situation. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 to schedule
a free consultation with a member of our team today.