What happens without a will or trust for your pets, or plans for them?
I was on vacation a little while ago when I received a call from Orange County Animal Services, notifying me that I had come into possession of four cats. I like cats. But I’m allergic to them. And after that thought, my next thought was, is this a new thing that shelters are trying out, their own version of Publisher’s Clearing House awards? How am I so lucky?
Well, the employee explained to me that a lady had walked into their shelter and handed over her deceased neighbor’s cats, and listed me as being ultimately responsible for them. She has a probate consultation scheduled with me a week from now, because as the neighbor of the decedent, she feels someone ought to take on her late neighbor’s probate. Apparently there are no family members or other loved ones. That is another topic entirely, but back to the cats.
I’m distressed that there are four homeless cats – and soon to be a total of seven, after she collects the outdoor ones – scared and confused in a shelter, with uncertain fate. If it sounds crazy to think about writing a will or trust for the sake of your pet, if there are no other loved ones to write these documents for, I encourage you to think of it as a kindness, and not an eccentric indulgence, for your four-pawed loved ones.
Four-pawed is a generalization. (We once had a client come in with his exotic parrot that was going to outlive him by several decades, and he wanted to make sure he could fulfill his responsibility for the parrot as long as it lived. The parrot interrupted the whole time, alternating between the only two sentiments it had for anyone, “F@#$ YOU!” or “I LOVE YOU!”)
Anyhow, whether you have dogs, chickens, pot-bellied pigs, or any other animal that depends on your love and care, you really ought to have a plan in place for their care and feeding if you were to accidentally “get on the bus” tomorrow. If you are curious if you can create a trust for your pet, the answer is yes, and in all 50 states now. Florida Statute § 736.0408 was enacted in 2006 and says that a trust may be created for the care of your pet(s) or animals, and the trust will terminate upon the death of said animal(s).
Pet are legally considered to be your property. If you have no plan for them after you “get on the bus,” they will most likely end up in a shelter, because animal health services have a right to pick up this kind of property if it is a danger to itself or others. No matter how lovely your fur friend may be, it is unlikely you’ll have friends or neighbors able to take on the responsibility if you don’t already have plans in place. Adoption rates at shelters are not terribly high, and unfortunately, euthanization rates are generally not low, either. The cats that I am now responsible for have a grace period, until we can get through our consultation and discuss what to do with them.
For the record, no one is allowed to ever appoint me responsible for pets again, just because I may possibly be hired as a probate attorney.