Caring for your pet even when you are not here...
What is a Pet Trust?
A Pet Trust, in basic terms, is a legal arrangement to care for a Pet. It should not be considered an extravagant inheritance, but rather it is more of a guardianship type of relationship similar to what a person could set up for his or her own child.
Recently, a number of states have passed laws adopting Pet Trusts.[i] In fact, it is estimated that 12% - 25% of pet owners include their pets in their estate planning.[ii] Massachusetts established that Trusts for the benefit of animals are valid with the enactment of the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (MUTC), and almost any animal can be covered by this Trust, including a dog, cat, or horse. [iii]
If the animal owner passes away without such a Trust or specific provisions in a Will, the burden of caring for the animal may fall on a family member or a friend. This can be especially difficult if the animal is a horse due to the fact that horses are expensive to maintain. Therefore what may happen is that the family member or friend may not have the funds or the desire to care for the animal, and the animal may not receive the same quality of life it once had and may even be transferred to a rescue league or worse.
However, if a Trust were set up, the animal owner can: (1) determine who gets the animal once the owner passes; (2) provide money to take care of the animal; and (3) describe the care they wish the animal to receive.
How does a Pet Trust Work?
The Trust can take effect either at the time of pet owner’s death, or while the pet owner is alive. Massachusetts law forbids the Trustee to use any of the Trust property for his or her own use other than for the benefit of the animal, payment of reasonable trustee fees and administration expenses unless otherwise expressly stated in the Trust.[iv]
Massachusetts law also provides for a list of people who can speak up in the event that the Trustee is not doing his job properly.[v] These people include: (1) an individual designated for that purpose in the Trust; (2) by the person having custody of the animal covered by the Trust; (3) by a beneficiary who is to receive the remaining Trust property; or (4) by an individual or charitable organization appointed upon a Court application.[vi]
One of the biggest concerns regarding a Pet Trust is how the Trust should be funded. The average age of a horse, for example, can range from 25 – 35 years. It is also estimated that the cost to board a horse can range from $15,000 – $30,000 a year. Therefore it must take creative funding techniques to raise the money to care for a horse upon the owners passing. This unique funding should be discussed with an attorney and should be customized for each individual circumstance.
As it can be seen, a Pet Trust is a useful tool when considering what should happen to a pet when the owner passes away. The pet owner may set up a Trust and dictate who should take care of the pet and provide for structured legal oversight to ensure the pet is taken care of. A Pet Trust should be well thought out and planned. There are a few ways to go about setting up such a Trust and each way should be considered carefully and discussed with a qualified attorney. After all, we plan for how our children will be cared for when we pass away, why not plan for how our pets will be cared for as well?
[i] Breahn Vokolek, America Gets What it Wants: Pet Trusts and a Future for its Companion Animals, UMKC Law Review, 1121, (2008).
[ii] Id. at 1128.
[iii] M.G.L. ch. 203E §408
Peter A. Moustakis is the founder of Moustakis Law LLC
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Please note that the information contained in this blog is not an exhaustive list of the matters pertaining to the discussion. Every person has a unique situation that must be tailored with the advice of an attorney after consultation. The material published on this blog is made available by the Moustakis Law LLC for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Before you make any decision that may have legal implications, you should consult with a qualified legal professional for specific legal advice tailored to your situation. Your visiting this blog does not establish an invitation to enter into, and does not create an attorney client-relationship.