photo_editedAttorney Daniel J. Hoffheimer routinely handles multi-million dollar estates at the old-line Cincinnati law firm of Taft (as in sons of the former president,) Stettinius and Hollister LLP, founded in 1885.

While clients are interested in preserving their legacies, they sometimes also want Hoffheimer to protect their pets.

“My practice is giving clients the peace of mind that their personal affairs are in good order in case they become disabled or die, “ said Hoffheimer, a past Cincinnati Bar Association president who has practiced for 39 years. “This sometimes includes planning for the care of a client’s beloved pets.  We can even create trusts for pet now in many states, including Ohio.”

However, protecting pets is not a luxury reserved for the rich and famous, although those cases routinely capture the headlines.

Recently, the media reported that the late comedian Joan Rivers had provided for her four dogs, two of which were rescues, in her estimated $150 million estate.

Animal lover Joan Rivers leaves her beloved dogs in her will.  Source: http://animalfair.com/joan-rivers-dishes-magnificent-mutts/

Animal lover Joan Rivers provided for her beloved dogs in her estate plan. Source: http://animalfair.com/joan-rivers-dishes-magnificent-mutts/

Thanks to legislation passed in Ohio in 2007 and similar laws in many states, pet owners legally can provide for the care of their pets, if the owners die or become unable to care for the animals.

Hoffheimer, a cat lover, said animals are considered disposable, personal property, such as jewelry or cars, unless they are specifically protected.

“In a very sad case I had, the client had made no provisions for her dog,” Hoffheimer explained. “When the client died, the dog passed as property to the beneficiary under the client’s will to a friend, who euthanized the perfectly healthy dog, which, as the new owner, she had the complete legal right to do….

Under the law, pets are simply personal property, but we know that they should be treated with much more respect.  Pets really cannot protect themselves even as people can.  They need to be cared for.”

Had the owner created a pet trust, the document could have required the beneficiary to place the dog with a rescue group, if the named individual could not care for the dog. Funds for the dog’s care also could be set aside, as well as fees sometimes required by rescue groups.

Although most pet trusts Hoffheimer drafts protect dogs and cats, at least two cases concerned parrots, whose owners worried that their birds could outlive them. Parrots can have long life spans, with reports of 50 to100 years, according to bird statistics.

Hoffheimer advised pet owners to take the time to plan for their pets’ welfare before it is too late.

“The most important thing a pet lover should do is consider what would happen if she or he did not plan, he said. “Then, think about who would be able to love and care for one’s pet as best as is possible.  One should also consider how it is best to set aside some money to make sure the pet is cared for as one would want.”

A listing of attorneys who practice in the areas of Probate, Estates and Elder Law is available from The Cincinnati Bar Association, www.cincybar.org.

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“Who will look after my pets if I die or become unable to care for them?”

Pet Trusts

Even if you consider your pet a member of the family, the law does not permit you to leave money outright to an animal in your will, according to Cincinnati attorney Nancy J. Burns.

That is because animals are considered personal property, the same as jewelry or a car, explained Burns of the law firm of Schwartz Manes Ruby & Sloven.

However, creating a pet trust can fill the void, she said. Also, sometimes an existing trust can be amended to include provisions for your pet, Burns explained.

“Now, in Ohio, pet owners have a legally enforceable way to make sure their pets are cared for if the owner becomes disabled or dies,” Burns explained.

A pet trust can:

  • Provide money for the pet’s care, if the owner is disabled or dies.
  • Name a trustee to manage the money and oversee the caregiver.
  • Name a caregiver for the pet, and an alternate.
  • Designate a certain rescue group or organization to care for the animal, if an individual is not available.
  • Mandate particulars, such as the pet’s primary vet; what brand of dog food required; even grooming requirements.
  • Provide a detailed description of your pet, so the trustee can identify your pet. This helps prevent fraud.
  • Designate who or what organizations you would like to receive leftover funds after the pet dies.
  • Instruct what to do with your pet’s remains.

The trust requires the caregiver use the money to take care of the pet.

“If the money is used for something else, a judge can order the caregiver to return the money,” Burns said. The judge can also remove the caregiver and appoint your second choice as new caregiver, she said.

More information on pet trusts is available at:

  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, www.aspca.org, “Pet Trust Primer.”
  • Estate Planning for Non-Human Family Members by Professor Gerry W. Beyer of Texas Tech University School of Law, Pet Trust 6/02/2014.

Other Resources

  • www.2ndchance4pets.org, which provides various free forms including an emergency identification card for an owner’s wallet or purse (published here.) The nonprofit’s goal is to reduce the number of companion animals euthanized because of the death or disability of the owners.

Websites that sell pet protection agreements, a different concept than pet trusts, include:

  • www.legalzoom.com
  • www.nolopress.com