How to Avoid a Big Hunk o’ Legal Trouble Like Elvis’ Estate

February 22, 2023

Keeping up with the critters is no easy task. Your pet is probably the center of your world, and you would spend every penny you have to return just some of the love they show you. If you worry about what will happen to your friend after you are gone, you will be relieved to know you have options. It is quite common to make provisions through a Will or a Trust for the care of your fur baby. We handle this at our law firm all the time and can guide you through the best practices.

One option that is in the spotlight lately is setting up a pet Trust, which is legally binding. But be warned: A pet Trust can be complicated and may not be your best option. It can be doggone dangerous in the wrong hands, as demonstrated by the story of Gunther, the richest dog in the world.

Gunther’s story is told in the Netflix docuseries Gunther’s Millions, which looks at the $400 million estate the German shepherd inherited from a woman who was his human companion. Countess Karlotta Leibenstein named entrepreneur Maurizio Mian to administer the Trust. He took control after Countess Karlotta died in 1992.

That is when things got complicated – and illegal.

Mian allegedly used Gunther’s Trust as a tax dodge, “investing” the pooch’s portfolio in yachts, Madonna’s former Miami residence and a pop-music group that may have been just a weird sex cult. He kept the estate alive after Gunther died, replacing the dead dog with five more iterations of dogs named Gunther. The Netflix series stars the latest version, Gunther VI.

It turns out that the whole thing was a fraud, according to the series, which claims Mian made up the entire thing. Even the countess was fake; Mian got his girlfriend to pose as royalty.

You may not have $400 million to leave your pet, but your furry, feathered or finned friend will have food, shelter and healthcare needs that will continue after you pass away. Florida law outlines the conditions under which you can set up a pet Trust.

Under Chapter 736.048 of the Florida Statutes, the Trust may only last as long as the pet is alive; the Trust administrator cannot just keep coming up with pet replacements, like Mian did with the various Gunthers. Property held by the Trust may only be used as intended in caring for the pet – no buying mansions and yachts.

You should know that a pet Trust can be expensive to maintain and is not your only option for showing love to your Lassie. It may make more sense to make a traditional bequest in your Last Will and testament (“Will”).

In this arrangement, you name someone in your Will who will take care of your pet. You can then leave that person a gift of cash on the condition that they care for your pet; this guarantees that they will only get your money if they take in our pet. And you can include stipulations for continued care if the animal outlives their next guardian – as often happens with animals known to have long life spans, like parrots or turtles.

No Legal Trucks

Your pet’s estate may not be as eye-popping as Gunther’s, but we are eager to help you care for all your loved ones – even the critter kind. To get started with a free consultation about your options, call us at (954) 251-0332, email or use the contact form on the homepage of this website. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish and Russian.