• Jeff Daybell

Cat and Pet Trusts

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Meet our beloved pooch “Cal” which is short for “Calendar” (I know, not the best name, but when kids are left to decide on a name you get what you get). He is a spunky English Springer Spaniel, and a very friendly and loyal companion. He is gentle with our children and sets the pace on hunting trips. Why am I talking about Cal? Well for two reasons, (1) he is the best, and (2) to highlight an area of estate planning that is often overlooked.

Not long ago, pet trusts were thought of as little more than eccentric things that famous people did for their pets when they had too much money. These days, pet trusts are considered mainstream. For example: in May 2016, Minnesota became the 50th (and final) state to recognize pet trusts. For Utah, you can find the exact codified language here, but are some key points of the law:

1- A pet trust is limited in time to 21 years if there is no ascertainable bene-fish-ary.

2- The trust terminates when no living animal is covered by the trust.

3- A court may reduce the amount of pawperty transferred to the trust.

As you might imagine, not every pet trust always goes to plan. Take these examples for instance:

Leona Helmsley and Trouble

Achieving notoriety in the 1980s as the “Queen of Mean,” famed hotelier and convicted tax evader Leona Helmsley passed away in 2007. Ms. Helmsley left two of her grandchildren bereft and awarded her Maltese dog, “Trouble” a trust fund valued at $12 million. The court knocked that number down to $2 million and gave $6 million to the disappointed grandchildren, and the rest to charity. When Trouble passed and was supposed to be buried in the family pawsaleum (mausoleum?) the trust was further disrupted when the cemetery refused to accept a dog and she was cremated instead.

Lessons learned: Maybe leave something less than $12 million to your pet.

(Trouble passed away in 2011, read more here.)

Karla Liebenstein and Gunther III (and his children)

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.

David Harper and Red

David Harper was a wealthy bachelor in Ottawa, Canada. While not exactly famous during life he made some headlines when he left his estate valued at $1.1 million to his tabby cat, Red. In an effort to ensure his scheme worked, he actually gave the entire amount to the United Church of Canada with the stipulation that they take care of Red. The ploy worked!

Lesson learned: You can be creative in your approach to making sure your pets are cared for after your gone.

A pet trust can be implemented into your other estate planning. It can be as simple as adding it to a new or existing trust. Contact me via call/text at 435-777-4740 and lets talk about taking care of ALL of your family members! You can also request an appointment on my Facebook Page by clicking HERE.


Nothing in this post is intended to be construed as legal advice and you should not rely upon this information without speaking to an attorney about your particular circumstance.

The author is an attorney and is licensed to practice in the state of Utah.

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