Hundreds of thousands of people love their dogs, cats, birds, and other pets. Some may even love them as much as their spouse or children. When contemplating death, the natural tendency is to focus on human beings. But pets need to be cared for when you die. They need someone to feed them. They may need someone to walk them. If they hurt, they need someone to take them to the veterinarian. A pet trust is a legal way to provide for the care, feeding, and maintenance of the animals you love.
Pets don’t have intestate rights. There’s no guarantee a spouse, child, or parent will watch over the pet.
The Florida pet trust statute
Florida Statute 736.0408 allows pet owners to establish a trust for their Frodo, Muffin, or beloved pet. This statute replaces the prior law which was outlined in Florida statute 737.116. The three main provisions of the law are:
- A settlor (the person creating the trust) can create an animal care trust while they are alive. The trust will end when the pet dies. If there are multiple pets covered by the trust, the trust terminates when the last pet dies. Generally, pet trusts don’t cover pets born after the date of the decedent’s death.
- The trustee is the person designated when the trust is created. Otherwise, the court can appoint a pet trustee. Anyone concerned about the pet’s welfare can request that a pet trustee be appointed or be removed.
- The funds set aside should be used for the animal’s benefit unless the court finds that the settlor put more property into the trust than is really needed. If there are excess funds, the property should be returned to the settlor of the trust (if living) or the estate of the settlor (if the settlor is deceased).
Generally, the pet trustee is a relative, friend, or a reputable pet service organization
Changes from the prior law
The earlier statute allowed for the creation of “honorary” pet trusts. The word honorary essentially meant that the trust (even if created in the decedent’s will) was just a wish. Since pets were people, the courts didn’t have the authority to enforce the pet trust. Even if the caretaker, pet trustee, used the funds for himself/herself rather than the beloved pet. Pets were not considered beneficiaries.
Another reason for invalidating pet trusts, before the new law, is that the life of a pet is much different than the life of a human. Florida, like many states, provides that the provisions of a will must vest within the life of a human beneficiary plus 21 years. Generally, the new law says that this wasn’t really an issue – since most pets live, on average, many years fewer than humans live. Some pets, though, can live 20, 30, or even 40 years after the decedent dies. So, having the resources to care for the pet can mean the difference between the pet living or dying prematurely.
Generally, when the pet trust ends, the remaining funds are paid to the decedent’s beneficiaries or a charity. The settlor can either fund the trust when the trust is created or by creating a testamentary pet trust. In the latter type of trust, the trust is funded through the probate assets.
Another option is just to make arrangements for someone to be given the pet to take care of through their own funds – when you die.