Can I Inherit a Tiger?

#estateplanning estate planning pets Nov 13, 2023
estate planning for pets-with-White tiger in background behind attorney with questioning look

When volunteering recently with my Civitan club at the Carolina Tiger Rescue, the question popped up on whether or not you can inherit a Tiger in light of the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2022, and that naturally led to questions about Pet Trusts and what kind of language is needed in an estate plan to care for our furry loved ones.

There are a few ways to handle the transfer of pets in estate planning with varying degrees of complexity and control:

  1. Language in a Trust or Will giving the Executor/Trustee a "power of appointment" over such pets that allows them to find a good home, including taking the pet or pets for themselves. This is by far the easiest way to create a plan for pets provided you trust that Executor/Trustee. This can be done with or without a sum of money per pet, but it essentially is a transfer of money with a handshake that they will use the money to care for the pet properly with no future oversight.
  2. Language in a Trust or Will that gives specific pets to specific people. Many of my clients have specific people in mind for specific pets, since those pets also have their own personalities that may match well with some people over others. Again, this can be done with a specific sum of money that is not overseen after the transfer. The big downside of using this method is a need to update plans each time a new pet is obtained.
  3. Specific trust language that grants the pet to a new owner, but now the money is overseen by the trustee and utilized for the pets needs on an ongoing basis. If there is any money left over after the pet passes on, it can go to other beneficiaries or a charity. This by far is the most complicated but most specific way to handle the transfer and care of pets after you are gone. It does require that the trust have a taxpayer ID number and potentially have to file taxes if the money is invested.

So how would these principles be applied to inheriting a tiger? Under the Big Cat Protection Act of 2022, I believe it is possible to inherit a tiger, but there are some very specific requirements under the law including:

  • No direct contact with the public
  • Specific fencing and other safety precautions
  • No breeding the tigers (or other big cats)
  • No paid exhibitions to the public unless specifically a zoo or some other exempt organizations

The BIG inheritance rule is the same as private ownership under the Act, which is the tiger must have been born prior to December 20, 2022, and the cat must have been registered within about six months of the Act's passage. In addition, there are a lot of local and state rules about the care of exotic animals that come into play. For a more in depth analysis of the Act (as well as some great video of tigers), check out the YouTube video on this here: 

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