Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Arden Moore
For more than three decades, attorney Stephen Beiner has specialized in family and matrimonial law, but lately, his expertise is now happily going to the dogs — and cats, parrots and other pets.
As a name partner with Beiner, Inkeles, Horvitz based in Boca Raton, Beiner credits Max, a Shih-Tzu-poodle mix he adopted from a Broward County shelter, with inspiring him to expand his legal practice to fill a needed void in Palm Beach County: pet trusts.
“In my file cabinets at our law offices, there must be more than 1,000 wills and trusts I’ve prepared for my clients,” notes Beiner. “I interview each client in depth, asking about their children, grandchildren and any special children or individuals they want included in their trusts. But it never occurred to me to ask about pets until my wife, Judith, and I adopted Max.”
Three years ago, Max, now 5, unleashed his canine charm on Beiner at the shelter. When Beiner picked up Max out of the cage to hug him, Max delivered a friendly dog kiss to his cheek. That’s all it took for Beiner to be smitten and since that day, their friendship has only grown stronger.
“Max gives me abundant, continual love every day and I have a responsibility to Max to keep my promise that if, God forbid, my wife and I should die before him that Max won’t be abandoned again and won’t end up in a shelter again.”
In Florida and the other states, pets are still considered chattel (personal property) in the eyes of the legal system. As such, a person cannot legally leave any or all of his estate directly to a pet.
“You can’t leave money to a dog, just like you can’t leave money to your living room sofa,” he says.
However, the immeasurable value of pets as cherished members of families is shifting legal sentiment. In recent years, legislators in Florida and 32 other states enacted laws that allow for the creation of care trusts for surviving pets whose owners become hospitalized, incapacitated or die.
Without legal instructions spelling out the fate of pets who outlive their owners, far too many become abandoned or surrendered to shelters where, if not adopted, they are euthanized to make way for new arrivals.
Beiner did not want this to happen to Max. So, he drew up a legally binding pet trust that spells out specific care instructions for Max, including his meals (featuring organic ground beef and grain-free commercial dog food), his five daily walks and much more. He set aside funds, named a primary pet guardian, two back up guardians and a trustee.
“The trustee is in charge of managing the funds, investing the funds and supervising the pet guardian to make sure Max is walked and fed as promised,” he says. “I have found that I have a lot of clients who feel about their dogs and other pets as my wife and I do about Max.”
Word about Beiner’s “legal beagle” pet trust expertise is spreading. His typical pet trust document numbers about 40 pages and includes identifying the pet’s veterinarian. He is attracting clients from other law firms that do not yet offer pet trusts.
“I even had one person who heard about me and the pet trusts tell me that she doesn’t have a pet, but said she felt I sounded like a person with a heart because of how much I care about Max and she said that I was the type of person she wanted to have as her attorney,” says Beiner.
The bottom line: Pet care trusts give pet lovers peace of mind in knowing that provisions will be made to provide a quality life for their surviving pets.
“With a pet trust, what you are conveying to your pet is that ‘I will protect you. I will always be there for you and if I can’t, I will make sure that someone will be there for you and you will never be abandoned,’ ” says Beiner.
And, yes, his pet trusts even cover species whose life spans can easily exceed 40 years: horses and parrots.
Learn more: According to the ASPCA, more than a half-million pets are euthanized annually because their owners died or were transferred to nursing care facilities and did not leave any legal-binding care instructions for their pets.
Learn more about pet trusts by contacting Beiner at his law office at www.beinerlaw.com or (561) 750-1800.
Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. Each week, she hosts the popular Oh Behave! show on PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.