Leona Helmsley Takes The Heat, But She’s Not As Unusual As You Think

There has been much noise made in the news recently about Leona Helmsley giving all of her millions to her dogs. But if you leave aside the incredible amount she left, her actions are not all that unusual. There are many people whose definition of family includes a beloved pet; and for those people, providing for the pet when the owner has passed away is no small priority.

According to the AVMA US Pet Owners Demographic Sourcebook, more than half of U.S. households include some kind of pet. If you are one of these animal-loving households you know that your pet is not only an integral member of the family, it is completely dependent on you for its basic needs as well. If anything were to happen to you, what would happen to your pet? Can you be assured your pet would be well cared for? Leona Helmsley is not the only one asking this question. Many pet owners have found that when they create trust to provide for their dependents, they can provide for their animal dependents at the same time.

The options when it comes to providing for your pets are almost as many and varied as any other part of your estate plan. It can be as simple a memorandum of intent nominating caretakers, or as elaborate as Helmsley’s full-blown pet trust providing financial support and final expenses. However you choose to put the pieces together, the most important component in providing for your pet is choosing a trustee and caretaker who understand and respect your wishes. Having people you trust in those roles are your pet’s best insurance.

Pets don’t have the same rights and considerations under the law as people. A memorandum of intent is helpful if you have caretakers and trustees who have the same values as yourself. But as the New York Times article says, "an expression of [your] wishes is not necessarily legally binding." If you have a pet you want to provide for after your death, talk to us about which option is best for you.