3 Famous Pet Trust Cases and the Lessons We Can Learn from Them

A pet trust used to be seen as eccentric and only for famous people with too much money but not anymore. They are now considered mainstream. In May 2016, Minnesota became the last state to recognize pet trusts. Pet trusts are not always followed through exactly as the owner wished them to be done. Below are some famous pet trust cases that we can learn from when setting up a plan to protect our furry family members.

Leona Helmsley and Trouble
Known as the “Queen of Mean” in the 1980s, Leona was famous for being a hotel owner and convicted tax evader. She died in 2007 and left nothing to her two grandchildren. Instead a trust fund of $12 million was left to her Maltese dog Trouble. Trouble only received $2 million because the probate judge didn’t agree with Helmsley’s plan. He awarded $6 million to her two grandchildren and gave the rest of the trust to charity. When Trouble died, he was not buried in the family mausoleum but was cremated because the cemetery refused to accept a dog.

Lessons to learn: 1) Leave a reasonable amount to your pets that will allow them to live as they are used to the remainder of their lives. Probate judges, lawsuits and family conflict can change the amount if it is extravagant. 2) If there are any family members you wish to disinherit, that needs to be made clear. Talk to your attorney so a solid, legal game plan is made to keep your wishes.

Michael Jackson and Bubbles
Michael Jackson had a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles that was constantly with him. Supposedly Jackson left Bubbles $2 million but when Jackson died the location of Bubbles became an issue. Allegations were made that Jackson abused his pet. In the end, none of that $2 million was awarded to Bubbles who now lives in a shelter in Florida supported by public donations.

Lessons to learn: 1) Be sure to be clear about your wishes and intentions. 2) Be sure to work with your attorney putting those wishes and intentions in writing so that your pet can get the care you wish and not be placed in a shelter.

Karla Liebenstein and Gunther III (and IV)
Karla Liebenstien was a German countess who left her entire estate and fortune to Gunther III, her German Shepherd. The fortune was valued at $65 million. Sadly, Gunther III died just a week after his owner and so the inheritance was passed to his son. Gunther IV became the richest pet in the world once the fortune increased to more than $373 million.

Lesson to learn: Have your wishes and intentions reflected in your estate plan because it is possible for pet trust benefits to be passed generationally.

Call us today to set up arrangements for your furry family members. We would love to help you establish an estate plan that includes a pet trust or update one you have already laid out.

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