Creating a trust to provide for a beloved animal companion

Our pets can be more than just friends. Dogs can act as vital helpers to the disabled. A study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute found that cat ownership can cut a person’s risk of a heart attack by one-third. A study in Medical Journal of Australia found that pet ownership reduces stress and improves the mood of owners.

It is no wonder then that many people with animal companions wish to provide for their pets if they are no longer able to do so. If unaccounted for in an estate plan, it may not be clear what happens to a pet upon the death or incapacity of its owner.

A pet owner cannot outright give money to their companions, but New York law allows pet owners to create trusts that designate who will take care of their pet(s), how much money is needed for food and care, and can provide for other specific needs a pet requires. Pet owners are increasingly taking advantage of this legal option.

A pet trust is similar to any other trust, such as one a person would make for a child or other relative.

Caretakers and providing funds

The caretaker designated in a pet trust should be a trusted friend, relative or charitable organization who has agreed to provide a good home for the pet if the owner is unable to do so. The trust should also name alternate caretakers should the first caretaker be unable or unwilling to care for the pet. It is wise to provide funds in the trust, especially if the caretaker is a charitable organization, in order to cover the costs associated with providing care for a pet.

The funds in a pet trust should be reasonable. A court may invalidate a trust that gives too much money to a pet. Over-funding a pet trust may also be cause for relatives or other beneficiaries to contest the estate plan.

Other provisions

When creating a will, a person should give funds to the executor of the estate and arrange a temporary caretaker in order to allow for the care of the animal before it can go to its new home. A provision that allows the executor to name a trustee if the named person is not available may also be wise.

A trust for a companion animal will last until no living animal is covered by the trust or after 21 years, whichever is earlier.

A comprehensive estate plan

Many people consider pets their family members. Some people spend more time with their pets than any other living creature. In such cases creating a comprehensive estate plan that provides for pets requires the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that their beloved companions are cared for even after their owners are no longer capable of doing so.