People love their pets. I know from my own experience that my dog Kirby is a very important member of my family. I believe most pet parents feel the same way. What happens when you die, and you leave your poor pet all alone? Are you confident that someone will step in and care for him and love him? Well, unless you have included a pet trust in your estate planning, there is no guarantee that he will be taken care of after you are gone. It is not unreasonable to believe that your pet may outlive you. Some animals have a long life span. For example, a tortoise’s average life span is 75 years, a parrot’s average life span is 22 years, and a horse’s average life span is 18 years.
It may be hard for an animal lover to fathom, but New York law considers animals as personal property. Because they are property, you cannot leave money directly to your pet through a will. However, New York’s Estates, Powers and Trust Law § 7-8.1 was specifically designed to allow a pet owner to set up a trust for the care of a pet. Under this statute, the pet becomes a beneficiary of a trust and a legally visible being who can claim equitable title in the income and assets of the trust. Of course, your pet cannot assert his rights on his own or hire an attorney, therefore the law allows the pet parent to designate an individual to enforce the trust, or if no one is designated, the court is authorized to appoint someone to enforce the trust.
A pet trust is a contract between the pet owner and a trustee. The pet owner agrees to fund the trust and specify its terms, and the trustee agrees to carry out those terms. Those terms may include:
• designating the animal(s) who are the beneficiaries of the trust, including a detailed description of the pet(s) – such as photos, microchips, and even DNA samples;
• designating a custodian to physically care for your pet;
• designating the trustee and successor trustee;
• designating an enforcer who can bring the custodian or trustee to court to force him to carry out the terms of the trust for the benefit of the pets;
• detailed instructions for the care of the pet, such as,
• name of the veterinarian to care for the pet
• any medical conditions or allergies
• specify in detail the standard of living and care to be given to your pet
brand name of pet food and snacks
• instructions for the final disposition of your pet (for example, burial or cremation); and
• how the unexpended trust property is to be distributed after the death of the pet.
Under the statute, the trust will terminate only when all the animal beneficiaries of the trust are no longer alive. This provision creates an exception to the rule against perpetuities which would have limited the life of the pet trust to 21 years. Upon termination of the trust, the trustee will be required to transfer the unexpended trust property as directed in the trust.
Now, pet parents can be assured that their pets are going to be well cared for even after they are gone by setting up a pet trust.
Contributed by Jacque K. Vincent, J.D.