Do people really plan use pet trusts after they pass away?

Absolutely!  As an estate planning attorney, planning for your pet is often a big concern for pet owners.  Clients plan for their dogs, cats, horses, and other pets.  For some clients, planning for their pets is more important to them than planning for their adult children because the pets are entirely dependent on them.  Not having the right estate planning can keep pet owners up at night.

How do you plan for your pets after you pass away?

There are two different ways that pet owners can plan for their pets after they are gone: 1. designate a pet caretaker and 2. provide assets to your pet through a pet trust. Keep in mind that the laws do vary from state to state.  In Michigan, for example, there are now laws that address pet trusts, allowing individuals to create trusts for their pets.  There are also laws so that if the court determines that the value of the pet trust exceeds the amount necessary to care for the pet, then the court can order that the trust money can go back to the owner if he or she is living, and if not, to the owner’s “successors in interest”.

Do pet trusts ever end up in court?

Not surprisingly, they do.  It is critical that the trust is drafted properly to reduce court fights.  Make sure to work with an estate planning attorney that specializes in this area of law.  Even if the trust is drafted properly, when pet owners disinherit family members and leave significant assets to their pets or leave more money to their pets than to their family, it is more likely to end up in court.  If you are involved in a court battle over a pet trust, make sure to work with an experienced probate litigator.

What are some high-profile cases involving pet trusts?

Leona Helmsley:

This is one of the cases in our book, Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!

The Queen of Mean left $12 million to her Maltese dog Trouble and disinherited two of her grandchildren.  Of course, the grandchildren went to court arguing that Helmsley was not competent and walked away with millions.  Fortunately, so did Trouble even though her inheritance was slashed to $2 million, she was still able to live a well-pampered life.

Gail Posner:

This millionaire from Miami Beach left her dogs $3 million in a trust along with her $8 million mansion while leaving her son only $1 million.  Posner’s son alleged undue influence because he claimed his mother’s staff had influenced her to provide for the dogs along with the $27 million that she left to her staff!  We wrote more about this case here.

7 Persian Cats:

Another woman in Florida left a six-figure amount to her seven Persian cats.  Her husband and son both predeceased her, so unlike Posner, she didn’t disinherit her son.  In this case, however, the caretaker of the cats wasn’t treating them well and the Human Society of Tampa Bay helped place the cats up for adoption.  Of course, the new cat owners wouldn’t have to worry about paying for their care and the trust money would provide for their vet bills, care and food.

Gunther the Dog:

This case became a Netflix documentary.  The “story” of Gunther was that a German Countess provided a trust for Gunther to honor her late son.  The amount in trust eventually ballooned to over $300 million.  As the Netflix special exposed, there was no German Countess, but there was still a trust for Gunther, who was bred so the trust continued on to his offspring.  In fact, Gunther bought Madonna’s Miami mansion among other properties.

Who do you contact to plan for your pets?

Make sure to work with an experienced estate planning attorney on this.  And if you’re in a court battle over a pet trust, you want to work with an experienced probate litigator.  If you live in Michigan or Florida, we can help.

Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!, legal media experts, and keynote speakers.  You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.  For all of the latest legal news, be sure to check out their blog.




    Danielle Mayoras is an on-camera legal expert, attorney, author, and keynote speaker. As a respected media source, she has lent her expertise and analysis to hundreds of media sources, including The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, People, Forbes, Kiplinger, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, among many others. She has appeared on Access Hollywood, the Rachael Ray Show, The Insider, CNN, CNN International, NBC Nightly News, Forbes, The Hallmark Channel, ABC’s Live Well Network, FOX, PBS, and NBC affiliates. Danielle also serves as a legal analyst for CBS News Detroit.

    In addition to co-authoring the best-selling book Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, Danielle has been a contributor to Forbes and other outlets. Danielle has also appeared as a TV host and legal expert on multiple celebrity documentary series on the REELZ network. When not doing media, Danielle helps clients in her thriving law firm practice and serves as a keynote speaker delighting audiences across the country.