Current Trends = #BettyWhiteChallenge & Estate Planning for Animals/Pets - Episode 31
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Welcome back for another episode of Legal Tea! Today’s topic is a current trend … something going on in current time, that is pertinent to my world. Today’s topic is on the #BettyWhiteChallenge – which occurred a few weeks ago now, but it’s a timely topic nonetheless – and blending that with some talk about how to support animals/pets in your estate plan. Now THIS is an episode that I can get behind … and was fun to write. Maybe because if you’ve been following Legal Tea since the beginning, you know I’m a dog-lover and have two basset hounds.
Near the end of 2021, we lost our basset hound, Floyd, who was, in the most non-creepy and weird way possible, my guy. I would tell people often that when Floyd passed away, I knew I’d go into a deeply sad place – and I did. It was awful. The only thing that gave relief was knowing he was free of pain. But even today, nearly 2 months later, I miss him so, so much. We still have our other one, Mildred, who is around 10 or 11 (she’s a rescue – so you know how it goes, the ages are always a big guess!) and because Mildred missed Floyd sooooo much, we very recently got Mildred a friend. A very young, rambunctious 6 month old basset hound PUPPY, who we have named Flossie. So, we still have two basset hounds – but they’ve switched up a bit since last time I talked about them on here…
Anyway, so as everyone under the sun knows, beloved Betty White passed away on December 31, 2021 at the age of 99 years old! She was ABOUT to turn 100 in like 2 weeks after that, too. So, according to an article in HITC, a news site online, the #BettyWhiteChallenge supposedly originated by a Twitter user and Betty White fan named Lisa Powell, who “thought making donations to animals shelters was the least one could do to honor the legendary actress.” As you may or may not know, Betty White was a HUGE animal-lover … I’m sure following Betty’s passing, you probably saw a handful of pictures of Betty and animals because they were floating around everywhere!
One of my favorite Betty White sayings about animals is: “Animals don’t lie. Animals don’t criticize. If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do.” TOUCHE, Betty, touché.
So, the big idea of the #BettyWhiteChallenge was for people to be inclined to donate to animal rescues, shelters, etc. on Betty’s 100th birthday, which occurred on January 17, 2022. The idea spread like wildfire. And on Betty’s 100th birthday, man did people show up. I saw so many people posting about donating to various animals rescues, shelters, etc. I donated! OF COURSE, I donated to the Ohio Basset Hound Rescue, which is where we have gotten Mildred and Flossie from. Special shout out to them!
So, today’s episode is not JUST about the #BettyWhiteChallenge, but it was a timely enough topic, that I thought I could weave it into the conversation because we’re going to be chatting about supporting animals/pets in your estate plan. There are two big things you can do to support animals and pets – 1) You can support your favorite organizations in your plan – by donating any amount to them following your passing; 2) You can specifically provide what happens to your beloved pets in your plan following your passing, and if they are still living. Let’s tackle each of these ideas one-by-one starting with “how” to incorporate supporting and donating to animal shelters, rescues, etc. within your estate plan.
In general, I see three ways you can tackle this – First, you can put them as a beneficiary of your Will or Trust meaning they would get a specified percentage of your estate following taxes, expenses, etc. So, say for example, you have Humane Society as a 25% beneficiary and your 3 kids each get 25% too. That’s just an example on what this looks like. I see some clients do it this way, but it’s less common than the next two options because it’s hard to “control” what they end up getting at the end of the day – meaning it could way more or way less than you really are wanting.
Second, you can “bequeath” them a specific amount. I know that’s a weird, funny word. It basically means that after taxes, expenses, etc. bequests, if there are any, take place first, BEFORE beneficiaries. This is probably the most common method I see clients do. So, for example, after taxes, expenses, etc., you have a $5000 bequest to the Humane Society – so your Executor or Trustee (depending on what type of plan you have) would distribute $5000 to the Humane Society “on the top” and the remaining estate/trust funds go to your designated beneficiaries. If you want to give a fairly significant amount, too, you can put some parameters around the bequest – like, “$50,000 to the Humane Society so long as the Estate exceeds $500,000 and if the Estate does not exceed $500,000, then this bequest lapses” or something to that effect.
Third, you can put the organization as an actual beneficiary on an asset – I mostly see this on like a retirement account. There are tax benefits in doing it this way. So, what this looks like is that instead of the organization being in your Will or Trust as a percentage beneficiary or bequest, the organization is actually designated as a beneficiary on the asset itself. So, at your passing, the organization claims their share of the asset (as the designated beneficiary). I see it somewhat often on retirement accounts because oftentimes retirement accounts are buckets of money that hasn’t been taxed yet, so when these kinds of funds go to a charitable organization, there are significant tax advantages in doing it this way – for you/your estate and it passes to them tax-frree.
So, those three general ideas are HOW you can provide for and support animal shelters, rescues, etc. from an estate planning perspective – please, if you have any questions at all about this, feel free to reach out to me at LegalTeaPodcast@gmail.com. I’d be honored and happy to help you figure out a way to support animal shelters and rescues!
Next topic that I referenced a bit ago was HOW to provide for your own pets within your estate plan – which I think is a wonderful idea. After all, there’s some extravagant number/percentage of animals that end up in shelters and rescues because their owners passed away or fell ill …. And no one wants them or can’t take the animals in. So, getting this conversation started while you are healthy and, sorry to be so crude, but alive, is important – doing so will help prevent you beloved pets from ending up in a place that you would have never wanted them to end up.
First, it’s important to figure out “who” is able and willing to take in your pets – and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a back-up too. So say you talk to your niece, Amanda, and she is able and willing to take in your pets – let’s get a back-up in place for Amanda in case 1) something happens to her or 2) her circumstances change, and she becomes unable to take in your pets. Find a successor to ol’ Amanda, okay?
Second, it does not hurt to throw them a monetary bone – what do I mean by this? Well, say Amanda does take in your furry friends – those furry friends cost money. Between food, treats, vet bills, and especially as they age, they may start receiving medicines, etc. all that is money, money, money. There’s no “wrong” amount either – I’ve seen as low as a couple thousand bucks to as much as $20,000+ for the person, here in my example Amanda, to help care for the pets.
So yeah, there are multiple ways that you, when you take the time to #DoYourEstatePlan, can support animal shelters, rescues, organizations that are near and dear to your heart AND/OR support your own furry friends – some people, when I’m meeting with them and they bring up their pets, they laugh and say something like, “This may sound silly, but … should we say something about our pets?” I’m always like, “100% YES! Let’s do it.” Then, we start talking about what works for them.
One last thing before I end this episode – especially being a “current trends” episode – I was about to sit down and write this episode, when a friend told me about a pending Bill in the House, which is House Bill 1160 (I know you dooooon’t really, care but in case you want to look it up, figured I’d mention the bill number!) – anyway, the Bill, according to a Fox 59 article, will “bar pet stores from selling dogs or cats unless they come from a shelter or rescue facility.” Basically, the Bill is taking aim at Indiana puppy mills. According to Representative Tom Saunders, he shared in the article, “We were just trying to find a way to get homes for these animals. Are we going to put the puppy mills out of business or private breeders? No, but we are shining a light on the issue.”
Interestingly, which I totally didn’t know, the article stated that Indiana is among the highest, if not the highest, number of puppy mills in the state. So, if that’s the case, no wonder there is a pending Bill about it. So, of course, there’s a process before this becomes LAW – it’s still pending, it’s not the law yet. But good to know, nonetheless, because something like this would absolutely have an impact on this whole conversation about rescues and shelters. In terms of a current update, as of writing this episode at least, Representative Saunders explained that the Bill has not yet gotten to a committee – and Representative Chris Campbell was urging Indiana citizens to “contact the commerce committee to push them to hear the Bill.”
So yeah, while it doesn’t directly deal with pets and estate planning, I figured it was a little timely nugget to mention in this episode! If you’re a big ol’ nerd like me, I did put a direct link to the House Bill 1160 in the source links for this episode … take a look!
Alrighty, let’s wrap this “current trends/current events” episode up, shall we? Next week’s topic is on estate planning of the rich and the famous – on that episode, we’re going to talk about Tom Petty – which, of course, everyone knows that name! Us, Indiana peeps, like to think Tom Petty likes us because he has that piece in his song, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” … “She grew up in an Indiana town, had a good lookin’ Mama who never was around, But she grew up tall and she grew up right, With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night!” Anyway, we’ll talk about Mr. Petty next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners. Talk to you then and stay well!