Fat Cats Jake and Frisco Inherit Home & $250,000 in Tennessee Will

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Estate Planning for PetsA Tennessee man, Leon Sheppard, Sr., so loved his cats, Frisco and Jake, that before he died, Leon made sure that they would continue to live the lives they were accustomed to under his care. In his will, Leon left his 4,270 square foot home in a gated community and $250,000 for the care of Jake and Frisco. The cats were to remain in the house and the money was to be used for their care. Following Frisco’s death, Leon’s human heirs will inherit whatever remains of Leon’s estate and can move Jake out of the house, but must continue to care for Jake.

Is This Even Legal?

Actually, yes it is. Pet owners who wish to provide for the care of their beloved pets in their estate plans can do so through either a trust or a durable power of attorney, depending upon the laws in their state and their own particular situation, and it is all perfectly legal. The most important part of the plan is finding and naming a trustworthy person who will ultimately be responsible for making sure that resources are being used for the care of the pets. This person can be the caregiver (the person who directly cares for and interacts with the pets on a day-to-day basis), a trustee (someone who is legally in charge of trust funds and oversees the caregivers, making sure the funds are being used exclusively to care for the pets), or an agent (someone who is named, under a durable power of attorney, to handle the pet owner’s finances, including resources designated for the care of pets). 

The Trouble With Trouble

As you can imagine, these plans can get quite complicated, depending on the requirements of the pet owner and the relative availability of trustworthy caregivers. When wealthy New York hotel heiress, Leona Helmsley, died in 2007, leaving most of her $12 million estate to her dog, Trouble, she designated her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, as Trouble’s caregiver. When Alvin decided he didn’t want the gig, Trouble was flown by private jet to Florida, where she was cared for, around the clock, by caretaker Carl Lekic, at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel. News reports claimed that Trouble also had a full-time security guard in response to kidnapping and death threats. According to Lekic, about $100,000 was spent yearly for Trouble’s care. Trouble died in 2011 at the age of 12, that’s 84 in human years.

Your pets may not need the same level of care as Trouble, but if you are looking to provide care and comfort to your pets in your estate plan, be sure to read Estate Planning and Your Pets – Real Life “Aristocats” for more information about pet trusts, durable powers of attorney, and how best to plan for your pet’s care, whether your estate is a mint or a meow.

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