Pets are family members to many residents of Florida and elsewhere. You may plan to leave an inheritance in your will to your children and grandchildren, and it can be easy to assume that you would be able to do the same for your dog, cat, bird, lizard or horse. However much you believe your pets are your furry or feathered family, the courts do not see it the same way. Pets are considered personal property, and your estate planning regarding your pets must be treated as such.
This does not mean you cannot provide for your pets in your estate planning. A pet trust would allow you to ensure your animals will be taken care of if you pass away before them or become incapacitated and unable to care for them. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that many animals are abandoned or end up in shelters every year because their owners had no provisions in their estate planning to address their care. You may consider including the following in a trust for your pets:
- Your preferred brand of food, as well as feeding times
- Veterinary information and checkup schedules
- Tips for how you like to play with and exercise your pets
- Your first, second and possibly third choices for caregivers
- Any other instructions or information on properly caring for your animals
As with any trust, you would fund it with the money being specifically used for the purposes outlined in the document. You may even want to include a bonus for the person who agrees to take on the responsibility. Of course, you would also want to discuss being a caregiver to the ones you are considering, so they can have a chance to agree or let you know if they might not be the best choice. This information is meant to educate you, but it should not replace the advice of a lawyer.