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Bill Dorris, a Tennessee businessman, died at the end of 2020 at the age of 84. Among the heirs and beneficiaries entitled to some of his estate was a very special 8-year-old named Lulu. This $5 million bequest to Lulu has, understandably, shocked many who have learned about it. You see, Lulu is not Dorris’s child, grandchild, or other relative. Instead, she is a border collie.
Pet parents cannot leave assets directly to their dogs, cats, or other pets. But in Tennessee, as is the case in many other states (including California), pet trusts are legal. In this case, Dorris created a pet trust, funding it with the $5 million bequest. The Trust named Dorris’s friend, Martha Burton, as the caretaker for Lulu. The funds are intended to provide for Lulu’s care and to reimburse Burton for normal monthly expenses incurred in caring for the dog. Any such expenses must be approved by a conservator managing the Trust assets.
With the average life expectancy for border collies just 12 years, it is unlikely that the entire amount of the bequest will be used during Lulu’s lifetime, although Burton joked “Well, I’d like to try.”
Pet trusts have been authorized and enforceable under California law since January 1, 2009, and are intended to reduce the potential burden on animal shelters or next of kin, and to protect pets whose futures could otherwise be in limbo if their owners predeceased them. Pet trusts can also give pet owners peace of mind knowing that their wishes for their furry friends have been legally documented.
To learn more about protecting your pets and documenting your wishes for their future care should you be unable to care for them yourself, contact The Estate Planning & Legacy Law Center today!