When It's All Going to the Dogs - A Primer on the Emerging Trend of Pet Estate Planning

April 14, 2008

Some people consider their pets to be members of their family. Other people have made a career out of breeding, raising and/or sheltering animals. When animal owners pass away, if they have not made provisions for the continuing care of their animals, the outcome can be disastrous.

Often, the recipient of the animal does not care to, or is not prepared to, take on the responsibility of providing ongoing care. As a result, the animals are then euthanized, neglected or abandoned. In order to provide for the ongoing welfare of their animal after their demise, the estate plan of the animal owner should specifically address the disposition and care of the animal.

When an animal's owner passes away, the animal will pass through the decedent's estate as personal property, just as would a lamp, a couch or a bedroom set. As such, the ongoing ownership of the animal should be addressed in the animal owner's Last Will and Testament. In addition to distributing the animal to a new owner or caretaker, most often, an animal owner will desire to establish a trust for the benefit of their pet.

Although approximately half of the United States do recognize "pet trusts," unfortunately, at this time, Massachusetts does not recognize such trusts. While it is not possible to create an enforceable trust solely for the benefit of an animal, it is possible to establish an enforceable trust for the benefit of the animal's caretaker.

One of the most important decisions when planning for an animal is determining who will serve as the animal's caretaker. It is also important to name at least one alternate caretaker, if not several, who would provide care if the originally named caretaker was unable to do so. The most commonly named caretakers are relatives, friends, the animal's veterinarian or breeder, or an animal shelter or sanctuary.

A number of animal sanctuaries have emerged that will provide care for an animal until its demise. These facilities vary greatly in terms of the environment they provide, the cost of placing an animal within the sanctuary and the type of compensation accepted. Some sanctuaries may accept only cash donations, while others are willing beneficiaries of a charitable remainder trust. The animal owner should approach the intended caretaker to ensure that the caretaker is willing to accept this responsibility and on what terms, as nothing destroys a plan faster than when the intended caretaker refuses the responsibility.

The next most important decision is determining how ...

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by: Gina M. Barry, Esq.

BusinessWest
March 17, 2008

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