A Guide to Pet Trusts

A great deal of consideration usually goes into making sure that loved ones are cared for and necessary tasks are completed when creating an estate plan. Sometimes, certain members of the family — our beloved pets— might be left out inadvertently. A pet trust is a legal tool to ensure that this does not happen and that companion animals will be cared for should they outlive their owner.

A pet trust provides a legally enforceable plan and funds for the care of a companion animal after its owner dies or becomes disabled. It will name a designated caregiver for the pet (either person or organization) and even a backup caregiver in the event the first choice cannot or will not agree to take the pet. A pet trust can be created for cats and dogs or anything else, horses, birds, reptiles and more.

The trust will hold money for the pet’s needs, which will be paid regularly to the designated caregiver for the entirety of the pet’s life. In New York, the amount of money held in the trust can be reduced by a court if it is deemed to be “excessive.” One famous example of this happening was when Leona Helmsley died and left 12 million dollars in a pet trust for her beloved Maltese, Trouble. Helmsley’s family sued her estate and the courts reduced Trouble’s trust to two million dollars.

One of the benefits of a pet trust is the amount of detail that can be included and that access to the money is conditional. A pet owner can, for example, make the new caretaker take the pet to the vet at least twice a year or feed the pet only a certain kind of food. They can include as much as they like to ensure their pet maintains the same standard of living it has always had.

Pet owners should communicate their wishes for the pet in the trust and can require regular check-ins with the trustee to be sure that they are being followed. Any money left in the trust after the pet dies will go to a beneficiary of the owner’s choosing.

Although few people will leave their animal friends millions of dollars like Leona Helmsley did, setting up a pet trust is a great way to see that pets will be cared for. It provides the flexibility, guidance and funds to ensure a pet gets a good life.

To learn more about how our dedicated team of attorneys can assist your family with its unique needs, call 914-684-1200 to schedule a no-obligation consultation today.

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