Pet trusts provide care when you cannot
Q I have been ill for a number of years and my husband has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. We have two horses, 10 and 8, dogs who are 9 and 5, and an Amazon parrot, 15. Our children live in urban centers and would not be able to take the animals, but we don’t want our beloved pets to end up in a shelter or be euthanized. What can we do?
A First, let me express how sorry I am that you and your husband are ill. Hopefully, you will continue to have quality time with your animal family, but you should feel relieved to know that you can provide for your animals after you and/or your husband become incapacitated or die.
In your will or in a trust instrument, you can appoint a trustee either to adopt your animals or give them to caretakers of your choosing. You would need to set aside a reasonable amount of money in the trust to care for all the animals during their lifetimes. You can direct the trustee to use his or her judgment, or direct, for example, that the animals have a certain number of veterinary visits a year, or special living arrangements. You can direct that the money be distributed to the caretaker on a fixed basis (i.e., monthly, biannually) or leave this up to the trustee’s discretion. You may also choose whether you wish to pay the trustee for his or her services.
To calculate how much money to leave in trust for your companion animals, figure how much you spend caring for them on average, and set aside that much for a year or two beyond the animal’s typical life expectancy.
We have learned from the experience of wealthy people like Leona Helmsley that it is not possible to bequeath your pets millions of dollars. The trust account cannot exceed what would reasonably be required to provide your pets with a good standard of living. If there is any money left over after the death of your last surviving pet, it would go to a beneficiary named by you, whether individuals or a charity.
The legal standard known as The Law Against Perpetuities dissolves any trust 21 years after the death of the grantor. While this is probably acceptable for dogs and cats, it might not be adequate to cover the life span of a horse, parrot, or tortoise, which can live longer than 21 years. Thankfully, in 2003 New Mexico adopted the Uniform Statutory Rule Against Perpetuities, which allows pet trusts to continue until the death of the last covered animal.
To set up such a trust, contact an attorney or use an online service such as Legalzoom.com, which has a template for pet trusts. Make sure you name the animals covered, to prevent fraud, and select a trustee and caretaker you know will act in the animals’ best interests.
There is perhaps nothing sadder than seeing older animals, accustomed to loving homes, being brought to a shelter. Many of these animals will never find homes, because adopters tend to prefer younger pets. Planning ahead for your pets is one of the most loving things you can do for them, and the pet trust is one excellent way to do it.
Ed Goodman worked for more than two decades as a trial lawyer in Massachusetts. A painter, screenwriter, and novelist, he lives in Corrales with his partner, Ennio Garcia-Miera, and their six dogs, four turkeys, four chickens, and a parrot.