Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pet Heirs

Leona Helmsley, the wealthy woman sometimes dubbed the “Queen of Mean” died this week, and the news has been filled with the lowdown about her estate. She left a trust fund of $12,000,000.00 to her dog, Trouble, an apparently ill-tempered Maltese. One interviewee I heard on the radio who had met Ms. Helmsley holding Trouble in an elevator said that her kids were not permitted to pet the pup, since apparently Trouble is troubled by children.

Trouble herself will go to Ms. Helmsley’s brother. I didn’t see who the trustee is, nor did I learn what happens to the remainder of the estate when Trouble is gone. Presumably, not even a spendthrift trustee can spend $12 million and any income from it on a dog during its lifetime.

And Ms. Helmsley’s human family? Well, she did manage to disinherit two grandkids, but I haven’t heard any speculation about why. Even more important, she left a fortune to various charitable trusts... so maybe the Queen of Mean wasn’t so mean after all.

In any event, the important lesson to me in all this--the method of inheriting for a pet-- makes sense. I did some research for one of my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries beyond what I already knew as an attorney, since estates and trusts is not my area of expertise. But pets, despite being family, are considered property, and property can’t generally be official heirs.

This is especially important to know for people who have pets that are likely to outlive them. Macaws, for example, live a long time, and since people don’t generally acquire one until they themselves are adults, their birds will probably be singing goodbye to them someday.

So what do you do? Even people who haven’t got much to leave should do a little estate planning to figure out what happens to whatever they have once they’re gone. And if you have a pet, who can’t inherit what you’ve got, setting up a trust on its behalf, with directions about how to take care of your baby when you can’t, is a great idea! At a minimum, why not put something in writing about who’s to get custody of your pet when you’re gone, even if you aren’t leaving a fortune in trust for its care?

Trouble, when she becomes a doggy angel, is to be buried near Ms. Helmsley. Maybe they’ll even meet on the legendary rainbow bridge. Hang in there, Trouble. I hope your trustee and guardian give you lots of hugs along with all the biscuits the trust will buy for you!



Kathryn Lilley said...

I'm designated as the executor of a family member's estate on behalf of her cats. Money has been set aside for the kitties, should the need ever arise. This member of my family is a very organized, responsible person on behalf of her furry friends!

Ellen said...

Life's a bitch, and then you die. And when you die, you leave a trust fund for the bitch ...

Monica Ferris said...

People can do what they darn well please with their money. If she wanted to turn twelve million into paper fifties and burn it in a fireplace, she could have done that. She left a lot of money to charity, and she wanted her dog taken care of. If by setting up an enormous trust fund for her dog she annoys some strangers -- so what? The ones with some logical reason to be annoyed are those who thought they should be in the will. And even they, with the rest who are angry are, perhaps, not nice people. After all, covetousness, envy and anger are three of the Seven Deadly Sins, and are not to be welcomed or admired. (Being judgemental is not nice, either, but I didn't start it!)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

My grandmother left directions not to tell my cousin when she died. It's been more than seven years, and he hasn't asked. As far as I know, he DOES not know she's dead and doesn't care. (Obviously he's not in contact with my family.) Sometimes there are good reasons for leaving people out of a will. I bet Leona's dog will miss her. As for those who're upset the dog got money and some grandkids didn't, well, we don't know the whole story, do we?