What is a Pet Trust? It is a legal instrument you can create in your will or living trust to ensure your beloved pet receives proper and loving care after you die (or in the event of your disability). Virginia has allowed pet trusts since 2005. Minnesota recently became the last and 50th state to allow pet trusts, as reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s article entitled “Who will take care of Fido when you’re gone? Minnesotans put trust in trusts”. Now our northern brethren are setting up trusts to care for their pets in the event they survive them.
If you care for animals, pet trusts are something to discuss with your estate planning attorney.
Since the law was enacted in 2016, Minnesotans have joined us in setting aside money to guarantee the care of their animals after they die or are incapacitated. With a pet trust, there’s a guarantee that the money earmarked to care for the animal will be there for the animal as intended. A trust can designate a separate caretaker, trustee and a trust enforcer to care for the animal, manage the money. and make certain the care is being provided as instructed in the trust.
A pet trust can contain instructions on the type of food, medical care, exercise and housing the pet will get, as well as the pet’s end of life and burial or cremation directions.
When the pet trust law was being debated in the Minnesota Legislature, there was the idea that pet trusts are frivolous, an option only for wealthy eccentrics like New York real estate and hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley. She died in 2007 leaving $12 million for the care of her dog, Trouble. The courts later reduced that amount to $2 million.
In the North Star State, the amount of money put into a trust to care for a pet can’t be excessive, or a judge might decrease the amount.
A pet trust can be used to care for an animal before the owner dies but is disabled or incapacitated. When the pet dies, depending on how the trust was created, the money left in the trust would be distributed to heirs or could go to another designated person or charity.
When states didn’t allow pet trusts, a person could write in a will that a relative will inherit a pet, and the pet owner could also leave the person money to pay for the animal’s care. However, because pets are legally considered personal property, they cannot own property or inherit assets themselves. As a result, there’s nothing that would prevent the relative designated to care for the animal to take it to the pound after you die and spend the cash on themselves.
A pet trust can provide a plan for animal lovers who want to own pets late in life but may be concerned the pet might outlive them. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about pet trusts in your state.
And while you’re at it, since pet trusts typically end if you outlive your pets, you may want to consider leaving what would have gone into the trust to charity instead.
Reference: StarTribune (Sep. 23, 2020) “Who will take care of Fido when you’re gone? Minnesotans put trust in trusts”