According to a Gallup Poll conducted in 2007, 59% of Americans own a cat or dog. Most of these same people view their companion animals as members of the family. The importance people place upon companion animals has only increased in recent years, both in terms of the amount of money spent on them and the reported emotional value owners place upon those pets.
Despite this, most pet owners are unaware or uninformed as to what might happen to their pets should they die or become incapacitated. This is especially significant considering the fact that the American population is aging.
Historically, owners were frustrated in their attempts to leave money to care for their pets, both during life or after death. Those who did attempt to create some sort of “trust,” found them invalidated because these pets were viewed as personal property. Since property (the pet) cannot legally own property (the money in the trust), these trusts failed. These trusts also failed because the pet could not legally be a beneficiary to the trust.
This began to change in the 1990s when states began to enact pet trust laws after the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) was changed to allow the creation of pet trusts. Sparked by this concern for our companion animals, many states, 39 in fact, have enacted what are termed Pet Trust Laws. (See the State Map of Pet Trust Laws for your state.) Attorneys in these states can now help concerned pet owners construct trusts that operate in the event of an owner’s death or disabling life events.
A pet trusts allows a person to set aside a sum of money to care for the pet. This may occur in regular disbursements of the funds, or in the manner the trust specifies. Further, an owner can make specific instructions regarding feeding, housing, and veterinary care. In most states, the trusts last as long as the last animal named in the trust lives (if Fluffy and Scooter are named in the trust, and Fluffy dies first, the trust continues throughout Scooter’s life) The named trustee oversees the distribution and management of the funds while another named person cares for the pet as directed by the trust. Some owners even specify that the remaining money left in trust after the pet dies (called the remainder) goes to a non-profit animal rescue organization.
Companion animal owners have been encouraged by legal professionals to think about who they might be comfortable with assuming the day-to-day care of their pet. Many times this person is a sibling, adult child, close friend, or other individual who assures the owner that he or she is willing to accept this responsibility. In addition, owners should be aware of what specific instructions for care should be provided. Does the pet require special food or grooming? Are there special medical concerns? And, most difficultly, is there a medical condition that would necessitate euthanasia such as terminal cancer or severe injury that profoundly impacts the pet’s quality of life?
As with any legal instrument, it is important to contact a licensed attorney in your state to counsel you on the particulars of your state’s pet trust laws. In the meantime, a pet owner could write a list of some of concerns regarding care for his or her pet. While thinking about one’s own death or incapacity can be a troubling subject, some planning can alleviate future worry and concern.
Detailed Discussion of Pet Trusts
State Map of Pet Trust Laws