For many people, the proper care of beloved pets after their death is a significant concern. When clothing designer Karl Lagerfeld died recently, much was made about the fate of his long-time pet, a cat named Choupette. While Lagerfeld was alive, Choupette lived a lavish lifestyle. A team of maids were at her beck and call as she resided in opulence and what some may call, wretched excess. Speculation is that Lagerfeld bequeathed much of his $195 million fortune to the cat to ensure that continued lifestyle.
Of course, Lagerfeld will not be the first to overindulge his pet from the grave. In 1988, a cat named Blackie inherited $9.15 million from his owner.
Unfortunately, pet bequests are not without problems. For example, pets may not inherit from humans. Funds for their continued care must be bequeathed to a human, who may or may not feel obliged to expend those funds on the pet’s behalf. There is also a possibility that the pet may outlive the appointed caregiver, live past the period for which care is funded, or the funds actually bequeathed don’t adequately cover the cost of care. In addition, circumstances change. For example, if a caregiver marries and their spouse or children are allergic to animals, that beloved pet could wind up at the proverbial dog pound.
A carefully crafted estate plan can address all of those issues. In California, the Probate Code permits trusts to be created for the lifetime of a pet, as long as it is a domesticated animal. In the alternative, a trust can be created for a lawful non-charitable purpose, such as the care of the pet, but only for a term of 21 years. In both cases, the trust grantor may delegate decisions regarding the pet’s care to a trustee or a pet welfare organization, such as the Humane Society.
Unlike an outright bequest to a caregiver, a trust ensures that funds will be used solely for a pet’s care. When contemplating a trust, it is important to consider the following:
- How much will it cost to continue providing my pet with quality care? Many factors impact of the cost of care, including the species of the pet, its life expectancy, projected veterinary expenses, and costs related to boarding a pet or pet-sitting. The size of the expense may dictate the best method of dispensing funds for that purpose.
- Who do I trust to care for my pet? Before naming a caregiver, it is important to secure their consent. Not everyone is willing or able to care for a pet. It may also be necessary to select one or two alternative caregivers or grant a trustee or a pet welfare organization the authority to find your pet a good home. Even if a potential caregiver gives their consent, there is no guarantee they will be available when needed.
- Which pet care expenses do I wish to fund? Generally, bequests or trusts are intended to provide for routine expenses such as food, housing, grooming, and veterinary care. Any additional expenses, such as a housing upgrade, mileage or vehicles for transporting a pet, pet daycare, or pet vacations, should be specifically authorized.
- What is the best method of funding my pet’s care? Basically, you have two choices. You may make an outright bequest to the appointed caregiver, permitting them to spend funds as they see fit or you can create a trust in which a trustee oversees the disbursement of funds. While in both situations the disbursement of funds can be conditioned on the caregiver’s performance, with an outright bequest, there is no way to ensure that the caregiver will actually use the money set aside in the pet’s best interests. A trust ensures that a third party monitors the pet’s care, funding only necessary expenses.
- What is the best method of ensuring my pet’s well-being? It is possible to incorporate wellness checks into any arrangement for funding a pet’s care. Pet care agencies, such as the SPCA, Humane Society, or area shelters, may be available to conduct regular home checks and ensure that pets are healthy and receiving appropriate care.
While no one can replace the original owner of a pet, it is possible to ensure continued quality care after your passing. An estate planning attorney can assist you in developing a plan that addresses your wishes to ensure your pet’s well-beings well-being.
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