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Can pets really inherit through wills and trusts?

A Cat and Dog Resting on the FloorFor many pet parents, a beloved dog, cat, or other animal not only demands but deserves the same care and affection as any other family member. However, many pet owners worry about what might happen to their four-legged family if they pass away unexpectedly. While Florida law affords pet parents the estate planning strategies needed to provide for their furry friends, some conventional strategies have critical limitations.

How Florida Estate Planning Provides for Pets 

The Sunshine State did not always provide pet owners with the legal resources needed to accommodate a family pet within a conventional estate plan. This is because Florida, like most other states, considers pets the property of their owners. Since pets are categorized as a form of personal, individually-owned property, they do not enjoy the same inheritance rights as human beings. Nevertheless, pet owners have a wide variety of options to protect their pets—even after death. A pet owner could:

  • Include their pet in a will. A pet cannot inherit estate assets. However, a testator could still include their pet in a will by bequeathing the pet to a named heir or beneficiary. Unfortunately, this strategy could fail if the heir is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility of adding another four-legged member to their family. You can also name who you want to your pet to go to as part of a "separate writing" as well,
  • Accommodate their pet in a trust. A will or a revocable living trust could include provisions or requests for the continued care of household pets. A simple example of pet planning is a bequst to a trusted person to use to help your pet.
    • Example: I give the sum of $5,000 to my serving Trustee to use these funds to find a new home for any pets I own at the time of my death. My Trustee shall, in sole discretion, have the ability to pay all costs associated with my pet(s) from this bequest.
  • Fund a dedicated pet trust. Upon your death, a pet trust can be established for the sole and specific purpose of maintaining a pet after the original owner’s death. The pet trust is discussed below.

Florida Pet Trusts

A pet trust is typically a fund of money set aside to help your pet upon your death.Pet trusts can send, receive, and manage assets, including the following:

  • The pets are to be transferred to the trust’s care after the grantor’s death
  • Pet care equipment and accessories, such as the pet’s favorite toys or any necessary medical supplies
  • The money needed to cover the pet’s reasonably anticipated expenses

Florida law explicitly allows a pet trust to continue providing for a pet’s best interests until the pet passes away.

Pet Trusts Create a Legal Obligation to Maintain the Pet’s Best Interests

A pet trust allows the grantor to designate a successor trustee to care for their pet after they have passed away. In Florida, a successor trustee has a legal obligation to honor the terms of your trust and use trust funds exclusively for your pet’s maintenance.

When you establish your pet trust, you could enhance your successor trustee’s accountability by:

  • Listing the pets included in the trust
  • Naming a caretaker or caretakers
  • Detailing the nature and quantity of assets left for the pets
  • Describing how the pet should be cared for
  • Appointing an attorney or other representative to enforce the terms of the trust
  • Explaining how any residual or remaining funds should be used after the pet passes away

Once a pet trust has been established and the successor trustee appointed, the trustee has a legal duty—known as a fiduciary duty—to use trust funds responsibly and reasonably. If the successor trustee levies excessive personal charges, they could be held liable for misconduct in a Florida civil court.

Use our Firm for your Pet Trust

We have a long history of supporting animal charities and working with pet trusts. Attorney Rep DeLoach was on the board of SPCA Tampa Bay for over 6 years and has worked in depth on pet trust planning for over 20 years.

Contact a Florida Probate Attorney to Establish or Enforce a Sunshine State Pet Trust

Pet trusts can be difficult to establish and enforce without the right assistance. DeLoah, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A., has years of experience helping Floridians build their legacies and protect their families' best interests. Please send us a message online or call us at 727-397-5571 to schedule your initial consultation.

 

D. Rep DeLoach III
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Estate Planning and Board Certified Elder Law Attorney