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Pet Trusts

A person’s estate and disability plan can include directions regarding the disposition of his or her pets in the event the owner dies or becomes disabled. The pet owner’s durable power of attorney can provide that during the owner’s extended illness or incapacity, the agent named in the durable power of attorney is authorized to pay the bills required for the care of the owner’s pets. The durable power of attorney can specify the type of care authorized for the pets. The durable power of attorney can include authorization for paying for the pets’ regular exercise, grooming, veterinary care and special dietary needs, if any.

A person’s disability planning documents can also state that it is his or her intention for the household pets to remain in the home with the owner so long as it is medically advisable. If a revocable trust has been established, a successor trustee can be directed in this instrument to pay for the pets’ regular exercise and medical care if the owner can no longer provide this care. The successor trustee can also be authorized to pay family members or friends for the time they expend in attending to the pets. In the alternative, a successor trustee can be specifically authorized to employ pet care professionals to arrange for the pets’ regular exercise and companionship. For instance, the trust can state that professional pet sitters can come to the home to exercise a dog and attend to a cat or another pet. The trust can also state which veterinary clinic has attended to these animals and direct that this veterinary clinic should continue to care for these animals if the owner becomes incapacitated.

A person’s disability planning documents can state that in the event a person is forced to leave home because of his or her medical condition, the health care surrogate may select an adult family care home or other assisted living facility for the owner which permits his or her pets to stay with the owner. If that is not possible, the health care surrogate can be instructed to arrange for the owner’s regular visits with his or her pets. It is, of course, important to state this is the owner’s intention with regard to household pets such as small house size dogs, cats or birds. This will avoid unusual pets or barnyard animals being included in this care plan.

A separate concern arises regarding what will become of an owner’s pets after his or her death. A person’s last will and testament can direct who will take an owner’s pets after his or her death. A will or revocable trust can direct that the person named to take the pets be given sufficient funds to support the pets during their natural lifetime. However, there is no guarantee that this care provider will actually use the funds to support a deceased person’s pets unless a trust fund is established for this purpose.
The will or trust provisions regarding the pet could state that if the person being left the pet and the right to receive money to care for the pet’s medical care and support is unable or unwilling to care for the pet, that this gift will lapse. In such event, the personal representative (executor) or trustee should be directed to arrange for a suitable home for the domestic pet and to prepay the projected medical care and food costs for the projected lifetime of the pet.
Another solution might be to prepay the pet’s medical care pursuant to a contract with a veterinarian and to establish a lifetime care contract arrangement with a veterinarian or dog care manager (similar to a geriatric care manager) to oversee the pet’s new home situation. It may also be possible to contract with a charitable organization that will agree to feed and shelter a survivor’s pet in exchange for a cash contribution.

The Florida legislature has approved legislation permitting a person to establish a trust for the care of a deceased person’s animals. The legislation states that a trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal during a person’s lifetime. The trust terminates upon the death of the last surviving animal. Unless otherwise provided in the trust document, the Florida statutes regarding the administration of a trust will apply to a trust for the care of an animal.

The property of a pet trust may be applied only to its intended use for the animals. However, the proposed law states that a circuit judge may determine whether the value of the trust property exceeds the amount required for the projected expense for the animals. The law states that trust property determined by the circuit judge to not be required for this intended use and any trust property remaining upon the trust’s termination due to the animal’s death shall be distributed as directed to the ultimate beneficiaries named in the trust.