Estate planning and your pet: Should you consider a Pet Trust?

Posted by Terri Griffith, CFTA, Vice President, Trust Officer on Nov 27, 2019 5:06:26 PM
    

We share our homes, our beds and our hearts with our pets. Is it any wonder we treat them as if they were our children? For some people, pets are the only family member providing love, affection, entertainment, a listening ear and a reason to get up in the morning. They ask for no more than a place to live, to be well fed, cared for and loved – and if you spoil your pets as badly as I do, a lot of tummy rubs. What they give us in return is “priceless.”

Americans spent over $70 billion on their pets in 2017. But how many have planned to protect their pet in the case of an emergency, incapacity or death? At your death, the best case scenario would be for a friend or family member to take care of your pet, but if there was no plan in place, would you be OK with your pet being dropped off at a humane society, kicked out of the house or in the worst case scenario, euthanized because your personal representation didn’t want the hassle of rehoming your pet.

As a general rule, your pets cannot inherit your property or money. But according to pet trust expert and attorney Dawn Marie Bates-Buchanan, if you love your pet and are not sure that a family member would take care of it when you pass on or become incapacitated, you should consider creating a pet trust. This would designate money to provide for the care of the animal and name who is responsible for the animal’s care. This can be a designated person or rescue organization.

There are hundreds of rescue organizations for every breed and mix of dog, cat, or other animal (rabbit, ferret, etc.). They would be more than willing to receive the animal and money to care for it in foster care, until the animal could find a forever home again.

As a Trust Officer with Englewood Bank & Trust and a director of the Suncoast Humane Society, I take the responsibility for my pets seriously. My estate planning documents include a Durable Power of Attorney for pet care, a pet trust, pet care instructions and a wallet card for emergencies stating that there are pets at home. My husband once said that in his next life, he wanted to come back as one of my dogs. That comment was in jest, but is there a grain of truth?

Be the person your pet thinks you are. Be prepared.

Terri Griffith, a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA), has an extensive background in trust services. She works with new and existing clients, serving as a point of contact and ensuring that trust and investment management documents are properly administered with the goal that her clients’ wishes are carried out. Terri may be contacted at 941-624-1935 or tgriffith@ebtfl.com.

Our culture is replete with instances of the very rich leaving vast sums to their pets. Pop singer Michael Jackson left his chimp Bubbles $2 million, while Oprah Winfrey set aside $30 million, a sizeable portion of her vast estate, as a trust reserved for her five dogs: Luke and Layla (golden retrievers), Sadie (cocker spaniel), Sunny and Lauren (springer spaniels). These are only two examples of a phenomena that spans decades and continents.

Crazy rich people? In most cases, no, just people who love their pets.

“We share our homes, our beds and our hearts with our pets. Is it any wonder we treat them as if they were our children?” writes Terri Griffith, CFTA, a price president and trust officer with Englewood Bank & Trust. “For some people, pets are the only family member providing love, affection, entertainment, a listening ear and a reason to get up in the morning. They ask for no more than a place to live, to be well fed, cared for and loved – and if you spoil your pets as badly as I do, a lot of tummy rubs. What they give us in return is priceless.”

In 2018, Americans spent $72.56 billion on their pets, and that number is expected to rise to $75.38 billion in 2019. That alone illustrates the love we have for our precious animal companions.

“But how many of us have planned to protect our pets in the case of an emergency, incapacity or death?” wonders Griffith. “At your death, the best-case scenario would be for a friend or family member to take care of your pet, but if there was no plan in place, would you be OK with your pet being dropped off at a humane society, kicked out of the house or in the worst-case scenario, euthanized because your personal representation didn’t want the hassle of rehoming your pet.”

Some half-million healthy pets are euthanized annually due to poor or no planning by their owners. One way to reduce this number would be creating a pet trust, says Attorney Dawn Marie Bates-Buchanan of the Bates-Buchanan & Savitsky Law Group, P.A., in Venice, Fla.
If you love your pet and are not sure that a family member would take care of it when you passed on or became incapacitated, a pet trust would designate funds to provide for the care of the animal and name who is responsible for the animal’s care. This can be a designated person or rescue organization.

Setting up a pet trust will ensure there is a named caregiver and alternates for your animal or animals. You can also secure a plan for your pet’s medical care and maintenance and know that final arrangement will be carried out.

“There are hundreds of rescue organizations for every breed and mix of dog, cat, or other animal (rabbits, ferrets, etc.),” says Griffith. “They would be more than willing to receive the animal and money to care for it in foster care, until the animal could find a forever home again.
“As a Trust Officer with Englewood Bank & Trust and a director of the Suncoast Humane Society, I take the responsibility for my pets seriously,” she added. “My estate planning documents include a Durable Power of Attorney for pet care, a pet trust, pet care instructions and a wallet card for emergencies stating that there are pets at my home. My husband once said that in his next life, he wanted to come back as one of my dogs. That comment was in jest, but contained a grain of truth.”

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have pet trust statutes. The Florida law reads in part: “A trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive 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.’

A pet trust will allow you to maintain control of your pet should you become incapacitated, select the best administrators and caregivers for your plans and leave a legacy beyond the pet’s life through charitable gifts.

Ask your Trust Office for guidance in establishing a pet trust for your animals. A good source of information is Animal Care Trust USA (http://animalcaretrust.blogspot.com), whose mission is the keep beloved pets in loving homes. The organization was founded by Peggy Hoyt, daughter of John A. Hoyt, former president, and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, “Be the person your pet thinks you are,” Griffith advises. “Be prepared.”

Posted by Terri Griffith, CFTA, Vice President, Trust Officer

In her capacity as Trust Officer, Terri administers accounts and acts as an estate representative or trustee. She works with new and existing clients, serving as a point of contact and ensuring that trust and investment management documentation is properly administered and that her clients’ wishes’ are followed.
Terri has an extensive background in trust services. Her education and certifications include:
Associate Degree in Business Administration at Waynesburg College, PA
National Commercial Finance Association Field Examiner School, NY
William College Trust School of Banking, Arlington, MA
Graduate, Realtor Institute
Series 65, Registered Investment Advisor
Graduate of Florida Bankers Association’s Trust & Wealth Management School
Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA).
Terri earned her Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA) designation from the American Bankers Association (ABA) by demonstrating knowledge and experience in taxes, investments, financial planning, trusts and estates. She also completed the Florida Graduate Trust & Wealth Management School offered by the Florida Bankers Association. This advanced, two-year program covered estates and trusts and offered specialized topics on issues currently affecting the industry.
Terri joined Englewood Bank & Trust in 2013, previously served in leadership and management positions at firms in Maryland and Washington, D.C. She earned an associate degree in business administration at Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania and also attended the National Commercial Finance Association Field Examiner School in New York and the William College Trust School of Banking in Arlington, Mass.
She was honored with the Allfirst Trust Company Achievement Award and served on the Board of Directors of the Suncoast Humane Society.