Can You Actually Leave Your Estate To Your Cat Or Dog?
One of the urban legends you often hear about in probate circles is the wealthy person who left their entire fortune to their dog–or maybe their cat. While it sounds ridiculous on its face, there are people who actually believe this is legal. Of course, it is not.
While your pet may be like a child or family member to you, as far as the law is concerned, animals are property. You can no more leave your house to your dog than you could to your couch. And if you did write a will naming a pet as the beneficiary of your estate, your human heirs would almost certainly (and successfully) contest the document in court.
When you do read stories about people leaving inheritance to their pets, what this usually means is that they created something called a “pet trust.” This is where you leave money to a human trustee for the benefit of your pet. The trustee retains legal title to the property in the trust, but they are required to use those assets for the care of your animals.
Pet trusts are perfectly legal and enforceable. Indeed, Florida law actually contains a specific pet trust statute. Under Section 736.408 of the Florida Statutes, a “trust for the care of an animal” is valid if all of the following conditions are met:
- The trust must benefit an animal who was alive during the settlor’s lifetime. In other words, you can create a pet trust to care for your cat, but the trust cannot also be kept around to care for any future kittens your cat may have after you die.
- The trust can only continue until the last surviving animal dies. Say you have three cats and a dog. If you create a pet trust to care for all of them, the trust must terminate when the last of those four animals passes away.
- Unless you state otherwise in the trust documents, if there is more money in the pet trust that is necessary to care for the animals, any excess must be returned to you or distributed to your probate estate.
If you fail to name a trustee in your pet trust–or the trustee you name is unable or unwilling to serve–then anyone with an interest in the welfare of your animals may ask the court to be appointed trustee. You do not necessarily need to name an individual as trustee. You could name an organization that specializes in animal care. Also note that the trustee need not be the same person as the custodian who will actually give your animals a home. For example, you might name your sister as custodian of your pet cat, but ask your attorney to serve as trustee to manage the trust’s finances.
Speak with a Florida Trust Litigation Attorney Today
If a pet trust is excessive or was not executed properly, then beneficiaries of the settlor’s estate may have grounds to pursue legal action. An experienced Pompano Beach validity of trust attorney can provide you with skilled legal advice and representation. Contact Mark R. Manceri, P.A., Attorney at Law, today to schedule a consultation.