Pet Trusts in Florida
The beautiful bond with our pets are real. Pets often comfort us when we are sad, don’t judge us when we make mistakes, and give us a sense of responsibility and meaning. Scientific research even says that petting your cat or dog can release beneficial hormones and lower blood pressure.
Pets, of course, are usually very much dependent on their owner for food, shelter, hygiene and medical treatment.
Florida Estate Planning | Form a Pet Trust
With pets often being treated as a member of the family, it makes perfect sense for Florida pet owners to want to make sure that their pet is well cared for should the pet’s owner pass away. Forming a "pet trust" can provide much needed peace of mind knowing that should anything happen to you, your pet will have provisions. Below are some common components found a Florida Pet Trust, which can be an important component of your estate planning package. When speaking with your Florida estate planning lawyer about pet trusts, we'll discuss and consider:
Who is the Trustee and Beneficiary of the Florida Living Pet Trust?
The pet trust trustee can, but does not have to, be the person taking care of the animal. Ideally, you will name a separate beneficiary who is not the trustee, who would be the pet’s caregiver. A human beneficiary, entrusted with the care of your pet, is important because this person would be able to enforce the trust if the trustee is a different person who fails to honor the terms of the pet trust.
When the human beneficiary is different than the trustee it avoids the potential conflict of using the funds for purposes other than stated in the Florida pet trust.
It’s important not to make assumptions as to who will take care of your pet should you become unable to. Make sure you have spoken with someone who agrees to assume the significant responsibility of taking care of your pet(s). It is also useful to have one or more backup pet caregivers ready to take over should your first choice be unavailable or unwilling to help.
How Income and Assets of the Florida Pet Trust are Used
The Pet Trust will often specify that the principal and income generated from the trust can not be used for any purpose other than for the benefit of the animal beneficiaries. Two exceptions might be to provide for a defined and reasonable fee for the trustee to manage the Florida pet trust and pay for their time to, at regular intervals, inspect the pet to make sure that the designated caregiver is doing their job properly. You may decide that the caregiver should be compensated for their efforts as well.
When is the Pet Trust Created?
The Florida Pet Trust will either be a stand-alone trust that will not be funded until after the grantor has passed away; or it will be a sub-trust (essentially a trust-within-a-trust) embedded within the grantor’s own Revocable Living Trust (usually not funded until after the Grantor has passed away as well).
Generally, if the successor trustees will be different (i.e. one person in charge of distributing asset to people or charities and a separate individual in charge of overseeing the care for your pet), we will suggest a separate stand-alone Florida Pet Trust (vs. one that is embedded within the Grantor’s existing Revocable Living Trust).
Term of the Pet Trust:
These trusts will terminate when the last living pet has passed away.
If there are any assets then remaining in the Pet Trust, they will usually be directed into a separate trust to benefit the grantor (if still alive), their estate or other family members / designated beneficiaries or perhaps to an animal-friendly charity (e.g. the Humane Society) as the trust directs.
How Do You Want the Florida Pet Trust to Distribute?
If the trustee and beneficiary/pet caregiver are not the same, generally the caregiver will be compensated one of two ways: by submitting bills/invoices to receive reimbursements. Another option is to have the trustee disburse a set amount, to the caregiver, each month to cover routine expenses (and allow for the submission of special items and services, e.g. Veterinary ER bill as needed, boarding/kennel expenses if caregiver needs to go out of town).
But you want to think about typical expenses: routine veterinarian care, pet insurance premiums, grooming, food/treats, and enrichment toys. You may decide that providing additional compensation to the caregiver for their efforts is appropriate or not. This will help you think about how much money to put into the Florida Pet Trust.
After the pets contemplated in the trust have passed away, the trust should pay for burial or cremation expenses.
Finally, to the extent that funds remain in the trust after everything the pet needs has been taken care of, you will need to indicate who or what organization the remainder of the pet trust funds should go.
Pet Trust Instructions to Animal Caregiver
There are some intangibles that are more difficult to enforce, but still important to include (if for no other reason than to provide guidance to your pet’s new caregiver).
For example, your Florida Pet Trust may include, to the extent you can articulate, an explanation of the pet’s habits: e.g. when and how often is the dog walked, particular activities that your pet enjoys (or detests), how does the pet usually acts around other animals, other people and children.
What special attention does your pet need: what kind of food does the animal prefer, does it have any special needs or medical conditions that you want your pet’s new caregiver to pay attention to.
Pet Emergency Alert Card
Consider carrying an emergency pet alert card in your wallet or to have posted somewhere conspicuous in your home should EMS personnel need to enter in an emergency. This makes it more likely that your pets (if multiple) are all accounted for and emergency medical personnel know who to notify to immediately take over care for your pet if you are hospitalized.
Some Pet Emergency Card Options
- Paid (on Etsy): https://www.etsy.com/market/emergency_pet_card
- Free (Animal Coalition of Tampa): https://actampa.org/free-printable-pet-safety-cards/
- Free (ASPCA): https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-planning/getting-started
Pet Trusts and Florida Law
Pet Trusts are specifically contemplated in the Florida Trust Code: Florida Statute 736.0408:
(1) a trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal during the settlor’s lifetime. The 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.
(2) A trust authorized by this section may been forced by a person appointed in the terms of the trust or, if no person is appointed, by a person appointed by the court. A person having an interest in the welfare of the animal may request the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust or to remove a person appointed.
(3) Property of a trust authorized by this section may be applied only to the intended use of the property, except to the extent the court determines that the value of the trust property exceeds the amount required for the intended use. Except as otherwise provided in the terms of the trust, property not required for the intended use must be distributed to the settlor, if then living, otherwise as part of the settlor’s estate.
If you are interested in learning more about Pet Trusts as part of your Florida Estate Planning, please schedule a consultation today. In addition to Estate Planning, the firm also serves those interested in Medicaid Planning and Probate Administration statewide.