Historically, New York hindered pet owners from providing for their pets after death. If money was left to a pet in a will or trust, the courts would simply ignore it. A pet owner could only request that the money be used for the pet’s care. The problem was that the person designated to help the pet could decide to disregard the decedent’s wishes and instead discard the animal.
In 1996, New York finally recognized pet trusts. This meant that a trust could now be used to protect a pet from being abandoned or left at a shelter. Better yet, a trust could be used to continue a pet’s standard of living and provide it with treats and toys for the rest of its life.
Pet trusts operate largely like any other trust. A person is named as a trustee to act as a manager and distribute the trust funds. The trust has a beneficiary. The trust also contains terms for the trustee to follow. Such terms may include the brand name of pet food, the type of snacks, a schedule for eating and grooming, the name of the boarding facility to place the pet if the custodian goes on vacation, pet medications, and end-of-life care.
There are however two unique components to pet trusts. First, unlike human beneficiaries, pets cannot assert their own rights or hire counsel. The pet trust law (NY EPTL § 7-8.1) therefore provides for an enforcer to enforce the trust terms. Second, the courts may reduce the size of the trust if it is excessive.
So, now that pet trusts are valid, what’s next? Tax deductions for doggie day care? Hamsters with checking accounts? Turtles with charge cards? Cats on deeds? Marriage certificates? Well, that just sounds crazy! But only time will tell. Until then, we will have to settle for make-believe, dressing up our pets in silly little outfits like mini-tuxedos and treating them like children.