When this type of trust came about, Pet trusts were considered an unconventional document that only wealthy and famous folks leave their assets to. Nowadays, pet trusts are considered standard. For instance: in May 2016, Minnesota was the last state to accept pet trusts. Each pet trust differs from one another and it’s possible that it won’t be carried out exactly to the owner’s instruction. Let’s analyze 3 cases below and how we can learn from their experience so our furry family member can be protected properly.

Leona Helmsley and Trouble

Being known as “Queen of Mean” in the 80’s, having tax issues and a hotel lover, she passed away in 2007. Her Maltese dog, Trouble inherited a trust fund of $12 million and her two grandchildren got stripped from the inheritance. The probate judge didn’t think much of Helmsley’s logic, however, knocking Trouble’s portion down to a paltry $2 million, awarding $6 million to the two ignored grandchildren and giving the remainder of the trust to charity. Furthermore, when Trouble died, she was supposed to be buried in the family mausoleum, but instead, she was cremated when the cemetery refused to accept a dog.

Leaving behind a lavish amount to your furry family member may not be carried out in a lawsuit and can really wreck things up with family relationships and inheritance process. It would be appropriate for your pet to inherent a fair amount of money to provide the care and lifestyle your pet is accustomed to for the rest of their life. If you decide in disinheriting one or more family members, it’s important to talk with your attorney so you can have the proper plan to disinherit who you want to as legally solid as possible.

Michael Jackson and Bubbles

Michael Jackson had a pet chimpanzee, Bubbles. Bubbles were Michael’s companion and Michael reportedly left him $2 million. When Michael passed, there were rumors and allegations that Michael had abused Bubbles. The good news is that Bubbles is living out his life well in a shelter in Florida and being supported by public donation. The bad news is that Bubbles will not inherit $2 million even if Michael left it to him.

Lessons learned: Always be clear about your intentions and work with your attorney to put them in writing so your pet member is cared for and doesn’t wind up in a shelter.

Karla Liebenstein and Gunther III (and IV)

Liebenstein, a German countess, left her entire fortune to her German Shepherd, Gunther III, valued at approximately $65 million. Tragically, Gunther III passed away a week later. However, the dog’s inheritance passed on to his son, Gunther IV; the fortune also increased in value over time to more than $373 million, making Gunther IV the richest pet in the world.

Lesson learned: It’s possible for pet trust benefits to be passed generationally, so make sure your estate plan reflects your actual wishes and intentions.

If you plan on having your pet in your estate plan, we can help you plan it and give you a peace of mind. Call us today. Your LIFE. Your LEGACY.

Please call (909) 256-6702 to discuss your questions and schedule a free consultation:
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MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Trust and Estate, Elder Law, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration and Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont and assists clients throughout Southern California.

This information is educational information only and not legal advice.