Estate planning Haute cat-ure

Key takeaways

  • The estate planning process presents an opportunity to address ongoing pet care.
  • Pet owners can choose to establish informal or formal arrangements to ensure their pet's future well-being.
  • Pet owners should select caregivers for either arrangement carefully and choose only organizations they trust.

After the recent loss of her iconic fashion designer owner, Karl Lagerfeld, Choupette could inherit millions of dollars from Lagerfeld's long-lived and celebrated career.

The millions Choupette may inherit from Lagerfeld is on top of the $3 million she made from her modelling career last year. Not bad for a seven-year-old, especially a feline seven-year-old.

Choupette is a blue-eyed Birman cat who Karl Lagerfeld first met in 2011, when French model Baptiste Giabiconi brought her along on a visit to the designer. There are conflicting reports as to whether Choupette was a gift or kidnapped, but, either way, she remained with Lagerfeld for the rest of his life.

As creative director for Chanel, Fendi and his own line, Lagerfeld worked with the world's top models. But, regarding Choupette, he said, "There is something unforgettable about her, the way she moves, the way she plays. She’s an inspiration for elegance. For attitude." In fact, she inspired Lagerfeld to launch the "Choupette in Love" line. And, even though she has two maids and roughly 130,000 Instagram followers, her reputation is less catty than that of other models.

As a pet owner, Lagerfeld took great care of Choupette and made sure she would be well taken care of if he passed first. But, even though many owners consider their pets to be part of the family, some may neglect to think of their fur babies when planning their estate. Pets with proactive owners who take part in the estate planning process, however, can continue to live a life of comfort—even luxury, as in the case of Choupette—in the event of their owner’s death or disability.

In its whitepaper, Planning for pets (PDF, 138 KB), the UBS Advanced Planning team writes, "All humans who truly care for their non-human family members—whether dog, cat, bird, tortoise, snake, monkey, koi, etc.—can make provisions to do the same in their own estate planning documents.” The Advanced Planning team offers a few key considerations for owners who want to ensure their wishes for their pets are carried out. These arrangements can be formal or informal, with the latter typically being easiest to implement but not legally enforceable.

The Advanced Planning team suggests clients begin by making a written list of expectations regarding a pet’s ongoing care. This list should include essential items, such as feeding instructions and veterinarian contact information. You should also consider selecting temporary emergency caregivers and confirm that they’ve accepted the responsibility to care for your pet if you are unable to do so.

A will can specify your wishes for the care and ownership of your pet upon your death. You can also create a pet trust, which provides additional protections and advantages by stipulating that money will be set aside for your pet's care after you are gone. You should speak with your attorney about what types of pet trusts are available in your state.

One of the most important questions a pet owner can ask is, "Who is the best person to take care of my pet?" The Advanced Planning team advises that you choose a person whom you trust implicitly and who will do what is in the best interest of you and your pet.

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