3 minute read

Pet Trusts of the Rich and Famous

In honor of national pet month, we want to educate you on how to best protect your furry friends. Learn from these over-the-top pros.

Turns out, celebrities really are just like us. They love their pets just as much as we do. 

But do some of them take it to the extreme by including their beloved fur-babies in their estate planning? Believe it or not, some famous folks actually do make it a point to ensure their famous pets will be taken care of after they’re gone. In fact, some go so far as to even set up a Pet Trust for their favorite four-legged furry companions. 

Yes, you heard that right. A Trust. For their pet. 

It’s a thing. But before you judge...think about it. Is it really all that strange? Shouldn’t we all be at least somewhat concerned with what happens to our pets after we pass away? 

Who is setting up these Pet Trusts? How are they structured? What’s included? Let’s dive into the world of the rich and famous...and, err, their pets...before we take a look at what including a pet in your Estate Plan really means.   

Famous Celebrities With Pet Trusts

Celebrities often do crazy things that turn heads and make the news, but we actually get a kick out of some of these notable examples of Pet Trusts famous folks have put into place. A few of our faves?  

German Countess Karla Liebenstein & the $65 million Dollar German Shepherd

Liebenstein left her entire $65 million (some sources say it was closer to $106m) fortune to her pup, Gunther III, who sadly passed away not long after his royal mama did. Fortunately, Gunther III himself had an heir, and Gunther IV was ready and waiting to inherit the wild fortune.

“Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley & Her “Troubled” Maltese

American hotel heiress Leona Helmsley went so far as to try and disinherit most of her own family, writing them out of her Will and instead leaving a whopping $12 million dollars to her little Maltese pup, Trouble. Note that a judge later reduced the pooch’s inheritance to “just” $2 million. Don’t worry, Trouble still managed to live out the remainder of her life in the lap of luxury. 

Michael Jackson & Bubbles the Chimp

Jackson’s life was fraught with scandal and controversy. His often-times questionable behavior and proclivity for decisions that raised eyebrows stretched even to his relationship with his...wait for it...chimpanzee, Bubbles. He left $2 million to the chimp, although before Jackson’s death Bubbles was relocated to an animal sanctuary after exhibiting aggressive behaviors toward Jackson’s baby son. Today, Bubbles is cared for by Jackson’s estate, as he happily lives out his life at the Florida animal sanctuary Center for Great Apes. 

What is a Pet Trust? 

Just like a normal Trust (that you might already have), a Pet Trust is simply a legal document meant to provide guidance regarding maintenance and care for a pet after an owner passes away. Pet Trusts actually do fall under Trust law, and they can be – despite how bizarre it may sound – a great way to set up provisions so you’re confident your pet will be loved and taken care of.

Pet Power of Attorney (POA)

Setting up a Power of Attorney for your pet can be a smart move if you want to ensure someone you trust is granted the authority to make decisions about your pet if you’re ever unable to do so yourself. Keep in mind, most Power of Attorney’s are only in effect during the Principal’s lifetime, so if the goal is to set your pet up for after you’ve passed away, a Pet POA may not be the best route to take on its own.

How Do You Make a Trust Fund For a Pet?

Before you set up a Pet Trust, you want to think about:

  • Who should be Trustee

  • How your pet lives now

  • Your pet’s current age/life expectancy

  • Who you would like to act as a caregiver

  • What type of care you expect your pet to receive 

  • How often a caregiver should check in with the Trustee

  • How much money will be required to adequately care for your pet 

  • What should happen to remaining money in the Trust once your pet passes away

How to Set Up a Pet Trust

Setting up a Pet Trust isn’t difficult, especially because since 2016, all 50 states plus DC started recognizing them. The good news is a Pet Trust is very similar to any other Trust, in that you’ll need to designate a Trustee to oversee and manage it. People often include funds in a Pet Trust that’ll be used to cover any care or expenses. For example, a Pet Trust Fund could be established to ensure there’s money for:

  • Grooming

  • Regular vet checkups and care

  • Emergency vet care

  • Feeding costs

  • Boarding costs

  • End-of-Life treatment plans

  • Burial/cremation wishes

  • And more 

The most important part of setting up a Pet Trust is to be specific and clear about your wishes so there’s no confusion about what (or how much) you want your pet to receive from your estate. 

Looking for guidance on the best estate planning tools you should include in your Estate Plan? Trust & Will is here to help you navigate the entire estate planning process, from Power of Attorney to a Pet Guardian, and everything in between. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options. Get started today!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our Learn Center or chat with a live member support representative!

While Trust & Will doesn't currently offer Pet Trusts as a stand alone product, you can appoint a Guardian for your pet in both our Trust and Will-based Estate Plans.

Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.