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Karl Lagerfeld’s Cat Could Have Used a Trust

Feb 25, 2019

According to the American Pet Products Association 2018 National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of U.S. households (approximately 85 million individuals) have a family pet. So, just how many of these pets’ owners have a contingency plan in place should something happen to them? Take the case of noted fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who passed away recently at age 85. While his treasured cat Choupette was one of his prized possessions, Lagerfeld did not make any plans to ensure ongoing care for Choupette in the event of his passing. Concerned fans are flooding social media worrying what will happen to Choupette. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario for pet owners.

We often consider our cats and dogs as four-legged family members. However, the law considers pets assets, and thus unable to receive their owner’s inheritance, so it would be more complex than Lagerfeld leaving Choupette the world’s greatest collection of Chanel blazers. Yet a mindful pet owner can utilize his or her will to ensure that their pets are cared for. We have had many clients make these thoughtful preparations by utilizing a trust, which can be quite effective.

Matters to consider are the possibility that family members could contest the trust in court. Further, trust settlors should be specific with instructions for pet care in writing so that they are legally valid and recognized by the courts. Also, owners should name a caretaker for the pet and ensure they will be compensated.

Establishing a trust for a pet, with a trustee in place and a named successor, is not much different than setting one up for a child, with the exception of education costs and considerations. There are provisions for shelter, health care, food and support for those clients planning for their furry families. Also, how should trust assets be distributed in the event of the pet’s demise? (An animal shelter or the ASPCA or similar organization is one oft-used option.) The most important aspect of the process is taking that first step: Put a plan in place. It may not be top-of-mind when mapping out your future, but it’s certainly the right decision to make for those you are leaving behind. So let this be a lesson for all animal lovers.

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Timothy Speiss

Timothy Speiss is a Tax Partner in the Private Client Services Group and Vice President of EisnerAmper Wealth Planning LLC. He chairs our Asia Practice and is a member of the firm’s community service group, EisnerAmper Cares.

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