Pets are often considered family members, yet many owners don’t plan for their future in the event of death or incapacitation. What happens to these well-loved and orphaned animals if there’s no one to care for them? Some will enter animal shelters and be euthanized.
When people plan for the future distribution of their assets, it’s essential they don’t forget about their pets. Making provisions for them doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple as talking it over with your children or other relatives and ensuring that they would welcome your pets into their homes. But if you don’t know for sure where your dog, cat or other pet will end up, don’t leave the future to chance. For your peace of mind and the health and comfort of your furry friends, you need to do some planning.
Ask your attorney what is allowed in your state. Most states have laws addressing pet trusts. Growing in popularity, pet trusts are similar to trusts that people set up to care for family members.
A pet trust provides a specified amount of money to be held in trust for the ongoing care of one or more pets. It generally terminates upon the death of the last surviving animal covered by the trust.
Here are some elements to consider in a pet trust:
Courts have some discretion concerning how pet trusts are administered. Some states impose funding limits. As illustrated by Leona Helmsley’s estate (see right-hand box), a large amount of money left to an animal may be ruled excessive and put back into an estate.
In addition, there are a handful of states where pet trusts are not valid. Therefore, pet trusts or alternative arrangements must be carefully planned and comply with the laws in your state in order to be upheld.
One of the most famous canine beneficiaries of all time was a Maltese named Trouble. Hotel heiress Leona Helmsley left the dog a $12 million trust fund when she died in 2007.
However, a surrogate court judge dramatically reduced the amount of the inheritance because it was ruled unreasonable. The judge ruled that $2 million was enough for Trouble to receive “the highest standard of care.”
The dog lived out the rest of its life at a Florida Helmsley hotel with a caretaker and a security guard.
When Trouble died in 2010, the remainder of the trust set up for her care reverted to a charitable trust Helmsley set up.