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The pet trust and pet will after the owner dies

A heartbreaking continuous concern for elderly pet owners is what will happen to their aging pet once they pass away, which is when a pet trust or pet will determines the future fate of the pet. This is because animals have long quit being just animals, but are now loving family members – especially for elderly people whose only closest companion has been their pet dog or cat.

This concern is greatly magnetized if there are no family members available to care for the pet at the pet owner’s death. Sad as it is, a large number of family members do not have time to spend for special care and love for the surviving elderly pet, turning them immediately over to shelters or having them euthanized.

Pet will for the surviving pet

In some states, if there are no family members or friends to care for the animal after the owner’s death, a legal pet will can be left – but whether it will be followed according to the owner’s wishes or not is debatable. In New Hampshire, the 2004 state law RSA 564-4:4-408, “Trust for Care of Animal” was developed after the heirs of late hotel heiress Leona Helmsley fought her $12 million trust fund for her Maltese, Trouble, until it was reduced by 80% to $2.4 million.

This reduction was based on the fact judges have the right to overturn any pet will if they feel the amount is excessive for the pet’s care in its remaining years.

“Property of a trust … may be applied only to its intended use, except to the extent the court determines that the value of the trust property exceeds the amount required for the intended use.”

The reasoning behind this  is the heirs, who do or do not want the pet, will complain about not getting their share of the inheritance, contesting the pet will or pet trust of their  elderly mother or father even though it was in their final wishes.

Setting up a pet trust for surviving dogs or pets

Many animal rights attorneys or animal attorneys are now setting up pet trust funds for pet owners (only if the pet is still alive), stating specifically what they want done with their pets at their death, done in the same manner as with dementia patients or minors. Animal laws allows the pet owner to appoint two individuals to be appointed caretakers for the animal – one handling the pet trust fund  and one to care for the animal by policing the money. This is because one has to speak for the animal, as they cannot speak for them self.

Many elderly people today are not wealthy, and do not have enough money left at their death to set up a pet trust fund or a pet will for their animal. This is a different situation entirely, as without money to pay for the expenses of the pet, many people will not offer to take in the pet out of the goodness of their heart. If they do, God bless them because they are a serious minority. In this case, it would help if a written agreement was set up between the pet owner and future owner, notarizing the pet agreement for legal purposes.

Legalities of the pet living will and pet trust

In today’s times, having a pet will or pet trust makes sense. Over 60% of Americans own a cat or do with high emotional values toward this family member. Unfortunately, most of the pet owners are a huge number of baby boomers and are aging more than any other population group. This puts their surviving pets in a precarious position unless something is done for their care in advance.

A pet trust is a designated sum of money to care for the pet of a deceased pet owner. If a family member decides to care for the aging pet or someone the pet is most comfortable with, the money may be disbursed in small monthly or annual amounts, or at one lump sum. This depends on how the pet trust was set up and what specific instructions went with it regarding the animal’s care. The  pet trust will last until the last pet named in the trust has passed away. The remainder of the money usually will go to a specific  non-profit animal rescue organization at the deceased pet owner’s choice at this time.

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. (Animal Legal & Historical Center)


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1 Comment

  1. Steve Young
    June 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm — Reply

    The article was great. It almost made me write a note about what happened to us when Mom passed away but I decided that could bring up open wounds. Short but sweet, we had to go buy her cat from the shelter two days after the funeral due to a brother taking her there rather than keeping her – which he had promised her. Anyway good article

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