The purpose of estate planning is to take care of those we leave behind and provide an orderly plan for carrying out our wishes. One aspect of creating that plan that many of us forget about is taking care of our pets. To some it may sound rather silly to talk about estate planning for pets, but for those who treat their dog or cat as part of the family, making sure they are properly cared for can be very important.
There are number options available to people who want to include their pet in an estate plan, and you may be familiar with some of the high-profile cases where these issues have come up. Just earlier this year, Gail Posner, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, left a mansion worth more than $8 million and a $3 million trust fund to her three dogs. She also provided more than $20 million to various individuals to care for her pets.
Situations such as this one, or the case of Leona Helmsley, who famously left $12 million to her dog, often invite criticism for being excessive. They also seem to invite litigation relating to the excessive bequests. In the Posner example, the will is being disputed by Posner's son who was left out and is claiming that his mother was the subject of brainwashing or undue influence by some of the individuals named in her will.
The lesson of the Posner or Helmsley cases may be to keep the pet planning realistic, but they also point to the need to make plans outside of just using a will. Other potential options include setting up a pet trust and using what is called a "pet protection agreement". A pet protection agreement can allow you to set up a trustee that will oversee the distribution of funds for care of a pet. This can ensure that an individual does not just take the money and then drop the pet off at a shelter.
If you have questions about adding provision for a pet or otherwise updating your estate plan, you should contact an attorney to make sure you understand all of the potential pitfalls and complications in these matters.
Source: Mainstreet.com, Woman Leaves Mansion, $3M to Her Dogs, Seth Fiegerman