Trust funds not just for relatives
by Kent Jennings Brockwell
Many people provide for their children and loved ones when drafting a will but what about Fido?
While constructing a will to financially cover a client’s family members is common practice for estate attorneys, some lawyers are expanding their services to cover the fuzzy members of the family.
Local attorney Randolph Coleman is one of Jacksonville’s few lawyers that specializes in animal law, especially trusts for pets. He was recently featured at an animal law workshop held at the Florida Bar’s annual meeting to speak about setting up pet trust funds.
“Pet owners often get to where their pet is a part of the family,” Coleman said. “These trusts are set up to help people make sure their animals are taken care of after the people are gone.”
According to Coleman’s statistics, between 12 and 15 percent of pet owners in the United States have set up some kind of estate planning for their pets.
“It is a growing trend but I don’t think it is very common yet,” he said. “There are 62 million people in America that have companion pets and if you say 15 percent of them have done some kind of planning, that means you have got 50 million that haven’t yet.”
Coleman said he has set up several pet trusts for his clients in Jacksonville but said many pet trusts are set up as part of a client’s overall estate planning.
“Usually it is in the context of when we are doing planning and the client brings up the fact that they have a pet,” Coleman said. “Most people that set up an estate plan are interested in learning what kind of options are available for their pets.”
Though some clients set up trusts for typical household pets such as dogs and cats, Coleman said most pet trusts are set up for animals that tend to have longer lives like exotic birds and horses.
He should know. Coleman and his wife Cheryl have a trust set up for their 14 exotic birds, a beautiful variety of Macaws, African Grays and Cockatoos. He said it is especially important for exotic bird owners to set up a trust because some species can live to be 80 or 90 years old.
“I am in my fifties and my wife is in her thirties and our oldest bird is a teenager,” Coleman said. “We want to make sure they are taken care of after we are gone.”