Pet Trusts

Bob and Laura were ready to move forward with their estate plan to save estate taxes and avoid probate. The only hitch was who would take care of their beloved pets, Samson, the dog and Delilah, the cat, after Bob and Laura pass away.

Laura had a dog-lover friend who would take care of Samson but not Delilah. Someone else agreed to take care of both pets but wanted the money up front – not a good sign of commitment to the pets.

We may not think of our pets as beneficiaries in our estate planning but ensuring their care after we're gone makes sense for those lovable, loving creatures who clearly become members of our family. For couples without children, like Bob and Laura, providing for pets in estate planning is a high priority.

Under New York law, trusts for the care of our pets are valid and enforceable. You can set up a pet trust in either a trust or a will. A trust is a private document that generally does not go to court, so if you create a pet trust within your own trust, it's a private affair. A will, once submitted to court, is a public document and the court oversees the directions in your will, including your pet trust provisions.

Bob and Laura created pet trusts in their own trusts. After more searching and discussion, they chose Bob's brother, Rich, to be the trustee, or manager, of the pet trusts, meaning Rich will oversee and keep account of the money allocated to care for Sampson and Delilah. Rich will also be the caretaker. The trustee and caretaker do not have to be the same person but often that is the arrangement.

According to their trusts, after Bob and Laura are both gone, they leave $10,000 for each of their surviving pets. The trust money is to be used for the "proper medical care, support and maintenance" of their pets until the last pet dies. Then, the remainder of the money, called the "trust balance," is distributed according to Bob's and Laura's wishes.

Pet trusts can be as varied as the pets they serve.

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