How to Protect Your Pets with Pet Trusts

For many pet owners, pets are their “furry babies” and special consideration needs to be given to properly plan for these much-loved members of the family. Making sure that pets have a loving home in the event that the owner is no longer able to care for them is typically the primary concern. However, sometimes it is also necessary to provide financial resources for their pets’ needs for their lifetimes. The cost of care and medication can sometimes become an undue burden on the caregiver so the pet owner should discuss these costs with their selected caregiver to ensure that there are financial resources available to cover these costs. While there are a number of potential ways to do this, in Massachusetts, one of the clearest and most direct options is to create a pet trust.

The Massachusetts Pet Trust

Massachusetts has recognized the validity of pet trusts since 2011. Section 408 of the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code states:

“A trust for the care of animals alive during the settlor’s lifetime shall be valid. Unless the trust instrument provides for an earlier termination, the trust shall terminate upon the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than 1 animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime, upon the death of last surviving animal.”

The statute goes on to specify certain terms that govern the administration of pet trusts and the distribution of funds placed into these trusts after each pet’s death; however, it still provides a significant amount of flexibility for pet owners to structure their trusts as they desire.

Why Consider a Pet Trust?

Why consider a pet trust?

If you are thinking about putting together an estate plan, or if you already have a plan but it does not include provisions for your pets, should you consider a pet trust? A pet trust will be a good option for many individuals who:

  • Have multiple pets
  • Have a pet that has a long life expectancy (tortoises, parrots and horses)
  • Have a pet with a physical disability or other unique veterinary needs
  • Desire to leave their pet (or pets) to a family member or other loved one with limited financial means
  • Desire to avoid any doubt that their pet (or pets) will receive adequate care without imposing a financial burden on their pets’ future owner

What if I Outlive My Pets?

Outlive pets

If you prepare a pet trust and then you subsequently outlive your pets, what will happen to the assets you placed into the trust? You can amend your trust to either terminate the pet trust provisions or outline where those assets are distributed if your pet predeceases you. However, if you do not include provisions for this contingency, then by statute the remaining assets of the trust would be transferred back to you.

What Happens if There are Still Funds in the Trust When My Pets Die?

Funds in the pet trust

What happens to the remaining funds in your pet trust after you and your pets die? Here, too, the potential outcomes are dictated by statute, but once again, the first option is for the assets to be distributed to the individuals or charities you specify in your pet trust. However, if you do not include these provisions in your trust, the Massachusetts statute dictates what happens:

  • In accordance with the applicable provisions of your will; or,
  • If you do not have a will, to your heirs according to Massachusetts’ law of intestate succession.

Overall, a pet trust is a good option for many pet owners in Massachusetts. A pet trust is typically embedded in an individual’s living trust or is a stand-alone trust that’s funded with assets at the death of the owner. Pet trust provisions can be fairly simple and cost-effective to create, but most importantly, they can provide peace of mind for you and avoid placing financial burdens for your loved ones entrusted with the care of your beloved pet. If you have questions or would like more information, we encourage you to contact us for an initial estate planning consultation.

Contact Us to Discuss Your Estate Planning Needs

If you would like more information about incorporating a Massachusetts pet trust into your estate plan, we are happy to discuss your options one-on-one in a confidential initial consultation. To speak with one of our Cambridge estate planning lawyers about your plan, please call 617-452-9001 or inquire online today.

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