In the United States, statistics show that approximately 90% of pet owners consider their beloved animals as part of the family. Sometimes a pet is the only family some individuals have. In such a case, how does one plan an estate to take care of a pet after its owner is gone?
On the contrary to what many may think, a pet can be considered during the estate planning process. In Florida, the law authorizes the creation of trusts for the benefit of a pet. However, it is not uncommon to see pet owners experiencing some hardship when trying to set up a trust for their pets.
In this article, we compiled everything you need to know about Florida pet trusts.
Drafting a Pet Trust in Florida – Common Legal Obstacles
Many may argue that a pet could not be the true beneficiary of a trust, given some legal obstacles existing in the common law.
Until recently, the Florida trust law did not permit any estate planning mechanism that ensured pets were taken care of after the death of their owners. Recent changes in the legislature have enabled pet trusts, as provided by Florida Statute section 737.116.
Under the old provisions, pet trusts were permitted, but unenforceable in practice. A testator (person responsible for making the trust and choosing its beneficiaries) could create specific bequests for a pet in the wills and trusts, but these arrangements were not seen as practical in reality.
Let us say a Florida resident set up a trust for the benefit of his pet. The provisions in the trust would have to be accomplished through an intermediary, in this case, a human beneficiary.
In such a case, it would be difficult to enforce the provisions contained in the trust to ensure that the pet would be protected, and the grantor’s assets were used for the benefit of the pet, instead of a human beneficiary.
In Florida, a pet trust only allows for animals living during the trust maker’s life to be named as beneficiaries. Hence, no animal can be added to a pet trust after its owner dies.
Drafting a Pet Trust in Florida – Rule Against Perpetuities Violation
Another common issue experienced by owners trying to set up a pet trust in Florida was the potential “violation of the rule against perpetuities.”
The rule against perpetuities is a complex rule that states that an interest in the property must be granted to a beneficiary no later than 21 years after the death of a measuring life. Formally, courts considered that a pet could not be used as a measuring life, consequently, any bequest could violate the rule.
Fortunately, now pet owners in Florida can set up a pet trust to provide for the care and maintenance of a pet during its lifetime. If the trust needs to care for more than one pet, then the trust can exist until the last animal dies.
In such cases, the pet trust would have to designate who should serve as trustee, or if a court should appoint a trustee of their choice.
Given that some pets can live for 30 years plus after their owner is gone, not drafting a proper trust with the necessary resources and instructions to provide for them would drastically reduce their chance of survival.
How to Properly Set Up a Pet Trust in Florida
Firstly, it is crucial to consider that the trustee (person in control of the property/assets for the pet) will need to have possession of the pet. In such cases, the trustee will personally take care of the animal (dog, cat, turtle, bird, etc.) and utilize the trust funds to pay for the expenses.
Typical expenses generated by pet care include:
- startup supplies (bowls, bed/crate, leashes, tags, etc.),
- vet and vaccinations,
- preventative medical care (heartworm, ticks, etc.),
- annual medical exams, and
- cleaning fees.
As a manner to avoid claims by heirs or other beneficiaries asserting the pet trustee is spending an unreasonable value on the pet, the attorney drafting the trust must include language to provide the pet caregiver with specific written directions regarding the care of the pets and the associated costs of care.
Another special consideration should be given to unforeseen events, emergencies, and critical illnesses. The trust maker should give specific instructions regarding each case to guide the pet trustee/caregiver, which includes written instructions regarding the use of euthanasia and the death of the pet (burial, handling of the pet’s remains, cremation, etc.).
Florida Pet Trust – We Can Help You
It is not easy to set up a pet trust in Florida, given all the complexities involved in the process. At Jurado & Farshchian, P.L. we have attorneys well-versed in estate planning to instruct and guide you.