Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Welcome back for another Legal Tea episode today, episode one hundred and one! Today’s topic is a current trend … on this type of episode, we dive into something going on in the current time or that I’ve stumbled across on the news or social media, that is pertinent to my little estate and elder law world. Well, today’s episode is going to be about an article I stumbled across on USA Today that was titled, “Florida Woman Leaves Inheritance, Tampa Estate to 7 Persian Cats.” Instantly, I was intrigued – and that’s why the title of this episode is what it is – I’m sure you were like, “What the heck is Jenny talking about today? when you saw the episode title! so today we’re going to be talking about that story as well as, since we’re on the topic, how to incorporate planning for our furry friends into an estate plan!
So, let’s talk about the story first – the story that inspired this episode! In November 2022, a lady by the name of Nancy Sauer of Tampa, Florida passed away at the age of 84. According to USA Today and the Tampa Bay Times, Nancy had a provision in her Last Will and Testament regarding her seven Persian cats – and specifically that a portion of her estate would be given “to” (said in air quotes) to the cats. Nancy’s friend, Yana, shared with Tampa Bay Times that Nancy was “worried the pets would struggle if they were separated” so to combat that, Nancy said her house would not be sold until the last cat died. In an interesting turn of events, the probate judge (where her estate was being administered through) ordered that the cats should NOT remain in Nancy’s home – and instead should be placed in new homes.
So, after the probate court judge ordered that, the cats were taken in by the local Humane Society. Sherry Silk is the executive director for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay – and she shared that the cats should NOT be in a home alone, especially of that size of a home. For that reason, the cats are now under the Humane Society’s care and Sherry said that she is “going to personally make sure that [they] can keep as many together as [they] can and that they go to the perfect house.”
In another article, in People Magazine, it was disclosed that the individual that was supposed to be caring for the cats inside Nancy’s home was not doing what Nancy probably would have wanted nor was it really in the best interest of the cats. In the People article, the caretaker “had put each cat in a big, big dog crate … and they were left in the crates in not necessarily the cleanest environment.” That makes better sense because when I first learned that the judge, sort of, went against Nancy’s Will and intention for the cats, my first thought was like, “Wow – I’m surprised the judge went against the Will.” Supposedly, the Executor of the Estate is who raised the concern TO the judge – and the judge ordered it from there. So yeah, makes better sense.
Furthermore, Nancy expressly “gifted” the cats money, too, to aid in their care, vet bills, food, etc. According to the article in People, the cats’ inheritance (which sounds funny to say out loud) … anyway, the cats’ inheritance was placed in a “restricted account” and Sherry Silk, the executive director of that Humane Society, said that “as people adopt them, they will pay for the vet care, or they’ll pay for the grooming, and then they’ll give us receipts, and then we’ll reimburse them. And it goes for the rest of the cats’ life. Hearing that, makes my heart happy because clearly, Nancy was concerned about taking care of her cats – and even though the cats did not remain in Nancy’s house, her wish regarding her estate taking care of the cats is getting fulfilled – I love that. Oh, and by the way, if you go to the People article, there are pictures of the Persian cats – so if you’re a cat person, animal lover, go to the website and check out the cure pictures!
So, now that we know there are some wealthy Persian cats in Tampa, let’s talk about how you support animals and furry friends in your estate plan. There are two primary ways you can support animals and pets in estate planning – 1) First, you can support your favorite organizations in your plan – by donating any amount to them following your passing; and 2) Second, you can specifically provide what happens to your beloved pets, your furry friends, your fur-babies (whatever you want to call them!) in your estate plan following your passing, so if they are still living, there’s a plan for them. Let’s tackle each of these ways 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 of 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 to support animal organizations. 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 “off the top” and the remaining estate/trust funds go to your designated beneficiaries, so say, your kids. 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-free. So, it’s a win, win.
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 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 your 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. 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, toys, 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.
Alrighty, I’m out of time, friends, so let’s wrap this episode up -- next week’s topic is on estate planning of the rich and the famous – on that episode, we’re going to dive into what happened estate-wise following the passing of Michael Crichton, which is the author of Jurassic Park. So you may not have heard of Michael personally and specifically, but everyone knows Jurassic Park! So, Michael had an estate plan, but left behind a blended family – which included his wife, who was pregnant at the time of Michael’s passing. The issue was that Michael and that wife had signed a premarital agreement, which made his wife NOT an heir of Michael’s estate – but then the court had to wrestle with the idea that she was pregnant with Michael’s biological son. So yeah – there was a lot going on and a lot to learn in his estate. We will dive into that next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners! Talk to you then and stay well!