In 2007, when the New York hotel billionaire Leona Helmsley died she left $12 million to her elderly, petite Maltese named “Trouble”. Yes, twelve million dollars in a pet trust for her twelve year old dog.
Fortunately for the rest of humanity, Helmsley left the bulk of her $4 billion estate to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust which supports health and medical research, human services, education, and conservation.
A pet trust containing $12 million dollars could buy a ton of dog biscuits and squeaky toys. Following Leona Helmsley’s death, the Florida court in Florida had to address the legitimacy of the bequest to the pet trust. The court subsequently reduced the gift to a mere $2 million. It found the $12 million bequest was excessive to fulfill its purpose.
A pet trust is a legal trust document to provide for continued care for a pet. A pet trust provides that a trustee will hold assets “in trust” for the benefit of the animal.
Michigan law did not always recognize the legitimacy of a pet trust. Now it does and it is codified in the Michigan Trust Code. In Michigan, a pet trust is generally referred to as an Honorary Trust. However, Michigan law provides that a pet trust may last no longer than 21 years, regardless of whether the trust provides for a longer term. The pet trust terminates when no living animal is covered by the trust. Michigan has similar protective language to Florida in that it provides that the court may reduce the size of the pet trust if it determines that the amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended purpose.
Michigan’s 21 year provision could impact certain gifts. The life span of a dog or cat is rather short. However, horses and parrots generally live beyond that time frame. Also, Michigan law would impact a pet trust that provided for the care of Fido, or his off-spring.
Another interesting aspect to Michigan’s law is that the animal must be domesticated. This would prevent a gift to some exotic pets that some people keep in their homes. Non-domesticated animals often kept as exotic pets include snakes, frogs, lizards, monkeys and lions.
If you want a pet trust for your pet hamster, The Probate Pro can help. If you want a pet trust for your pet tiger…The Probate Pro suggests a therapist.