Pet Trusts: Providing for Your Furry Friends Even After Your 9 Lives Are Up

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Generally, peoples’ estate planning revolves around providing for their spouse and children, and maybe other family members and charities. While some people consider their pets to be their children, at a minimum, most people consider their pets to be part of their family. Although you can’t claim a pet as a dependent on your tax return, New Mexico law, and the law in all but four states, allow you to make provisions for pets in your estate plan. Some people treat this very casually. Perhaps they know that there are family members who would be willing to take over the care of their pet if something happened to them, or they don’t think it is a big expense to care for a pet. However, others have serious concerns about who will care for their pets and how they will be cared for. Making provisions for their pets in their estate plan may set their mind at ease. Pet trusts also provide an opportunity to leave money to the Grantor’s favorite animal charities after the pets are gone.

In a nutshell, the basic construct of a trust is that a person places their property in trust to be managed for the benefit of another. The Grantor is the person establishing the trust with their property. In the case of a pet trust, the pets are the beneficiaries. Finally, the Trustee is the manager and can be anyone the Grantor feels can manage the trust, including a friend, a family member or a professional trustee. Typically, pet trusts are included as a part of a more comprehensive estate planning document such as a will or a revocable trust that will benefit the Grantor’s spouse and children or other beneficiaries, as well as the pets. However, a pet trust can be a stand-alone document.

The two main considerations to be made with regard to providing for your pets when you are gone are who you want to care for them and how you want them cared for.
The New Mexico statute requires that the trust must be used for its intended purpose. Property not required for the intended purpose must be returned to the Settlor, if living, or distributed to the Grantor’s successors, unless provided for otherwise in the trust. The intended purpose of the trust can be spelled out real specifically and can include providing for food, exercise, veterinary care and shelter for the pets. Leona Helmsley made an example of this when she left her Maltese dog, Trouble, a $12 million trust fund. The court ultimately determined this amount was excessive for fulfilling the trust’s purpose and reduced this amount to $2 million.

The two main considerations to be made with regard to providing for your pets when you are gone are who you want to care for them and how you want them cared for. Most people have family members or friends that they trust who are willing to care for their pets. However, arrangements can be made with local animal rescue organizations to care for pets when family and friends are not available. Providing financial support in either case, is helpful, if not critical. How much money needs to be set aside will depend on the regular needs of your pets, for example, horses are a usually more expensive to maintain than cats; the health of your pets; and the extent of the care you want, and can afford, to provide.