Pet Trusts: Closing the Stable Door Before the Horse Bolts

October 27, 2010
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Image by ~Twon~ via Flickr

I always find it amusing when a series of strange events inspires an estate planning post.  Here, I have a series of real and fictional horses to thank for today’s discussion.

From Secretariat to Mister Ed

It all started this past weekend when I went to see the new movie “Secretariat”, starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich (no, neither one played the horse).  I took my five-year old daughter since she has been getting into the “My Little Pony” books lately.  The enjoyable film reminded me of my father, who always enjoyed watching the Triple Crown races. He never forgot about that June day in New York when Secretariat … oh wait … I won’t spoil the ending.

At bedtime that evening, my daughter wanted me to read to her a Disney story about how the different princesses took care of their horses.  When we got to Cinderella’s page, I read about how she took care of her steed, Frou.  However, I made the mistake of pronouncing it as if it rhymed with “boo”, whereas my daughter (and wife) insisted that the name rhymed with “cow” (I still think I’m right). This led to interesting discussions about language, rigidity, and what happened to Major, Cinderella’s horse in the movie.

I then got the bright idea to go on over to YouTube and play the “Mister Ed” theme song (if you’re at work, note that this and the following three links all have sound)  After watching another amusing video called “Clint Eastwood Meets Mister Ed”, I found another clip called “Mister Ed Wants Life Insurance”.

Naturally, pet trusts then entered my head, but I pressed on anyway. Soon afterward, I found an article on explaining that Mister Ed was actually a zebra.

As things were starting to get too bizarre, I decided to just stick with the pet trust theme instead.

Mister Ed’s Dilemma

In the life insurance video, Ed shows Wilbur (Ed’s human) an article explaining how a little old lady left her cat $50,000. Wilbur tries to laugh it off, but then Mister Ed articulately explains his concerns about a lack of planning, including his fear of ending up with a “horse hater”.

While animals cannot own property, Ed raises some interesting questions.  What would happen to your pet if something happened to you?  What if you leave your pet and cash to a friend and your pet dies too soon?  What happens to the cash?  What if the cash runs out first?  What if your friend gives away the pet and pockets the cash?  What plans do you have in place?

Estate Planning for Pets

Most estate planning attorneys are equipped to help you work through these issues.  A majority of states, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, now allow you to set up a pet trust for the maintenance and care of your pet after you are gone. You can even name the trust as a beneficiary of your life insurance.  In most cases, the cost of a pet trust is not prohibitive, especially if it is drafted along with your other basic estate planning documents.

Alternatively, you could draft a will leaving your pet to a trusted relative or friend, along with a lump sum payment intended for care and maintenance.  You might also check out this article on Florida attorney Danny E. Meek, Esq.’s Pet Trust Law Blog, which provides some additional options.

Happy trails!

P.S.  If you are still interested about Mister Ed’s zebra status, you might check out this follow-up post.

 Pet Trusts: Closing the Stable Door Before the Horse Bolts
 Pet Trusts: Closing the Stable Door Before the Horse Bolts


Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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