J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Attorney and CPA

Planning for the pets

Florida estate planning should include care of an important family member. Will or trusts may address the testator's wishes for the family pet. Trusted caregivers who are familiar with the pets should be identified in the will. The executor usually has the power to select another caregiver if something happens to the primary caregiver.

A temporary caregiver may be designated to care for the pet during the search for a permanent caregiver. The will should contain reasonable and flexible instructions for them. Many pet owners have friends or relatives who agree to take care of the pet until a permanent person is found or can take over.

Florida is also one of the states that recognizes a pet trust with funds dedicated to the care of the pet for their lifetime. A trustee may be appointed during the pet owner's lifetime or by a court if the owner did not designate a trustee. The trust should contain instructions on the disposition of any remaining funds after the pet dies. Trusts can contain arrangements for immediate pet care if the owner dies or becomes disabled or incapacitated.

For wills or trusts, sufficient funds need to be set aside for the caregiver or trustee. This amount depends on the animal's age and health. Funds should provide for food, grooming, veterinary care or boarding when the caregiver cannot travel with the pet. The executor must have the discretion to spend funds from the estate for pet care, finding a new home and transporting the pet to a new caregiver.

Investment plans for money placed in the pet trusts help keep pace with rising costs of animal care. Certain assets may be excluded from probate to free up additional funds for their care. Vast overfunding of an animal trust should be avoided. Some courts have overturned a pet trust fund by citing overfunding.

Copies of these documents should be left with the will's executor or the trustee. It is also helpful if they have copies of the pet's veterinary records and information about their behavior and food and health needs. An attorney can help with drafting estate planning documents. Well-drafted estate documents can help assure that wishes are properly carried out.

Source: Paw-Rescue.org, "Dog tip: Will planning and pet trusts," and OnLine Sunshine, "The 2016 Florida statutes-736.0408-Trust for care of an animal," Accessed July 13, 2017

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