Pitfalls of bequeathing money to pampered pets

Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:47am EDT
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By Bernd Debusmann Jr.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - British Fashion designer Alexander McQueen did it and so did billionaire hotel operator Leona Helmsley, but legal experts warn that there can bepitfalls to bequeathing money to a pampered pet.

Between 12 and 27 percent of pet owners provide provisions for their beloved pets in their wills, according to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.

McQueen left 50,000 pounds ($81,000) for the care of his English bull terriers when he died last year, and Helmsley bequeathed $12 million to her now-deceased Maltese, named Trouble, after her death in 2007.

"Although pet inheritance in America was recognized in 1923, and despite several recent innovations, the law remains unstable," said Washington University Law Professor Adrienne Davis.

She said trusts must be properly drafted and should name caretakers who are willing to comply with the trust terms. If a final resting place is desired for the pet, lawyers should check that it will accept animals.

Despite Helmsley's wishes, a U.S. judge reduced Trouble's bequest from $12 million to $2 million and more problems arose after the dog's recent death.

"The remainder of Trouble's money will go to Helmsley's charitable trust," said Davis, adding that gifts to charitable trusts would qualify for a tax deduction in the United States.

"However, tax law excludes charitable remainders following pet trusts from qualifying," she added in a statement.   Continued...

<p>Poodle dogs wait for their turn in a spa at the 2011 Taipei Pet Show inside the Nangang Exhibition Hall in Taipei July 15, 2011. REUTERS/Nicky Loh</p>