It wasn’t too long ago that pets were merely animals for most people. Though the love was there the love and affection that exists today for many Americans toward their pets is, at times, equated to that of the love a parent has for their child.
Thirty years ago pet food was bought at the grocery store and a grocery store entirely for pets was unheard of. Thirty years ago the idea of including a pet in one’s will was not only unheard of but probably met with a lot of skepticism. But today, pet stores that are nearly as big as human grocery stores exist in every city and bequeathing money to pets is not such a foreign concept anymore.
Alexander McQueen, a British fashion designer left $81,000 to his English bull terriers last year and billionaire Leona Helmsley left $12 million to Trouble, her now deceased Maltese in 2007. While this may seem egregious to many people the fact is people who love their pets and are expected to die before their pets are starting to consider the welfare of their beloved furry friends in their wills.
Pet inheritance was actually recognized in 1923 but the law remains rather unstable. There are many issues to consider like who is going to take care of the pet once the owner dies and where the pet will be buried once his or her time has come, said Adrienne Davis, a Washington University Law professor. Despite her dying wish, Helmsley’s dog was not allowed to be buried in the family mausoleum because pets in the U.S. cannot be buried in cemeteries for humans.
In Helmsley’s case, a judge eventually reduced the amount to be given to Trouble from $12 million to $2 million. But, additional problems surfaced after the dog died. The money that remained went to Helmsley’s Charitable Trust. Ordinarily, gifts to charitable trusts qualify as a tax deduction but current tax law excludes what is left from pet trusts, Davis said. Additionally, Helmsley’s wish that her charitable trust go to animal welfare was also over turned and the judge allowed the trustees to distribute the money to charities of their choice.
In an article featured in the Florida Law Review, Frances Foster, a Washington University professor, thinks the traditional concept of family is outdated and that the law should reflect how important pets are in people’s lives. Foster believes pets should be able to inherit gifts from their owners who have passed on.
Foster explains that America’s inheritance law assumes the deceased’s closet relatives are either by blood, adoption or marriage and who are most deserving of the estate. But for many Americans, she says, their pets are the nearest and dearest to their hearts. Davis said legal reforms should be made to recognize pets in wills and estate planning.
“One proposed bill would extend the charitable remainder tax deduction to pet trusts. Other reforms would make it easier to create trusts for future generations, or ‘grand-kid pets.’ That companion feeling has spilled over owners’ lifetimes into their estate plans, with no end in sight.”
Meanwhile, Davis added, trusts should be properly drafted and name caretakers who are willing to comply with the terms of the trust. And, if a final resting place for the pet is noted, lawyers should check that it will accept animals.