Why One Of Karl Lagerfeld's Legacies Might Be Estate Planning For Your Pet
When Karl Lagerfeld died earlier this week at age 85, the world was quick to mourn the fashion genius. His imprint on the world of style and design was monumental. His image was unique and one key part of it was his ever-present Birman cat, Choupette, at his side.
As an arbiter of style, he was always clear and concise in his wishes, evidence by how he often spoke about his death. In April 2018, in an interview with Numero, he stated, “There will be no burial. I'd rather die ... I've asked to be cremated and for my ashes to dispersed with those of my mother… and those of Choupette, if she dies before me,"
In the aftermath of his death, Choupette continues to play a starring role. After all, she has become an icon in her own right due to the love lavished upon her by Lagerfeld. With an Instagram following, a coffee table book and a modelling career, this lucky feline will likely continue her pampered existence. But Lagerfeld’s death brings up a key concern in estate planning today: the care of a pet when someone dies.
The 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey found that 68% of all U.S. households or approximately 85 million families own a pet. As with Lagerfeld, these dogs, cats and other animal friends are often seen as a member of the family. As a result, it is only natural that they be factored into estate planning. After all, most parents would not forget to include a guardian for their child.
As someone who had lavished Choupette in style while he lived, one can only presume that Lagerfeld likely did the same for her in his estate planning. There are a few paths to go down when planning for the care of your pet after your death.
The Evolution of Pet Trusts
In the past, the most traditional route was to simply ‘gift’ your pet to a close family member or friend to take care of them. The hope was that these caregivers would provide love and care to the pet in the same manner the deceased had. But the role pets play in our lives has evolved. These furry friends are seen as core members of the family. For individuals like Lagerfeld who do not have children, the pets are their children – and heir. As a result, many individuals are turning to the concept of a pet trust.
“I think the first most people heard of pet trusts was when Leona Helmsley decided to set aside money for her Maltese named Trouble upon her death,” says Christopher Burns, an estate planning attorney and partner at Henson Efron in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Following Ms. Helmsley’s unique gift, the idea of planning for your pet seemed to take off.”
While it is not clear that Lagerfeld went down this path, a pet trust would likely appeal to his sensibilities. The concept of such a trust is relatively straightforward: In your estate plan, you can create a trust that handles the care and maintenance of your pet. Like all trusts, there will be a trustee who manages the funds and a caretaker who takes care of the pet.
“The custodian has the legal right to request money and the trust specifies the client’s hope that those funds be used by the custodian for the benefit of their pet,” explains Burns. “This sort of framework has worked well for some clients but is more complicated than others desire. Finding two individuals, one to assist with the managing of the money for the benefit of a pet and another to take custody of and to have to request funds for the pet, sometimes is unrealistic.”
In Lagerfeld’s case, given the size of his estate and the lifestyle of Choupette, there will likely be the right people in place to execute his wishes.
But one challenge that might occur for Lagerfeld’s estate is whether it is permissible to leave assets to your pet. While these trusts are permissible in the United States, Lagerfeld might have had to do some unique estate planning to accomplish it. When it was once pointed out to him during an interview that it is not permitted to leave your estate to a pet in France, Lagerfeld’s responded: “Well it’s lucky I’m not French then.”
Care and Maintenance
One of the more complicated aspects of a pet trust is to consider the care and maintenance of the pet. In Choupette’s case, she lived a life of extravagance. It is likely that Lagerfeld would fund the trust at a level to make sure this lifestyle can continue.
But for most individuals, there needs to be some formula to fund the trust.
“This amount often depends on the type of animal and its historic needs and projected future needs. Some clients consult with their veterinarian to determine an appropriate amount of what might be the future care needs for their dog, cat, or other pet,” says Burns. “Generally, in my experience, for clients with dogs, cats, and similar common household pets they have left a separate gift between a few thousand to as much as fifty thousand dollars.”
Beyond the monetary needs, many individuals understand the need for the pets to see family members that they knew. In Choupette’s case, this might mean visitors as illustrious as Valentino Garavani to Diane Kruger to Julianne Moore.
“Some of my favorite pet trust clients have been so thoughtful as to plan for visitation of the pet by adult children and sought assurances from their children and other caretaker beneficiaries that they will follow their carefully prescribed plans to care for their pets for the rest of their natural lives,” says Burns.
Finally, when the pet finally passes, the trust terminates and the caregiver might end up being the beneficiary of the remaining funds for taking care of the pet so well.
The End of The Trust
Karl Lagerfeld probably left nothing to chance when it came to his beloved Choupette. How Choupette spends her remaining years in comfort is likely a testament to his focus on caring for his pet in his estate plan.
We might never know exactly how Lagerfeld handled Choupette in his estate, Perhaps Anna Wintour summed it up best when she said, “I have often thought that in my next life, I would like to come back as Choupette, his extremely beautiful and bourgeois cat, who has two maids, a chef, a personal hairdresser, and many diamond necklaces.”
Not a bad life for a cat.