The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) has sparked an interest in people all over the world to make sure their affairs are in order in case of sudden death or incapacitation. Many pet owners consider their pets as part of their families, so it naturally follows that they would also want to ensure their pets will be cared for even when they no longer can provide that care. Creation of a pet trust will allow pet owners to ensure their precious loved ones are cared for even if they cannot be the ones to care for them.

What is a Pet Trust?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of a pet (or pets) in the event of the owner’s death or incapacitation. Pet trusts allow individuals, usually the pet owners, to name a pet guardian and to allocate funds in his/her estate be left to provide for the continued care of the pet in the event the original owner is unable to[1].

How Can I Create a Pet Trust?

An owner can create a testamentary pet trust in his will by designating portions of his estate to be used for the benefit of his pet.  In certain states, the courts have discretion to change terms and enforceability. For example in New York, the court can lower the allotted amount if the “amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use[2].” However, the court cannot override the expressed intent of the testator, and the court may look to evidence outside of the will to evidence the testator’s intent[3]

Best Practices

The testator should elect a pet guardian to care for the pet. This person can be the same as the trustee, or someone else who is familiar with the pet’s routine. In New York, the court can appoint a trustee if no trustee is designated or the trustee is unwilling to serve.

Selecting two different people to act as the trustee and as the pet guardian will help prevent misappropriation of the trust property and ensure the terms of the pet trust are being adhered to. It will be hard to ensure the pet is adequately being taken care of if only one person is both the trustee and pet guardian[4].

Famous Examples

 In 2019, BBC reported that Karl Lagerfeld left €153 million out of his €200 million estate to his cat, Choupette. His estate has still not settled, but Choupette is currently living with her nanny in Paris[5].

In 2008, the Huffington Post reported Oprah Winfrey set up a $30 million pet trust for her four beloved dogs[6]. The animal law experts here at Fox Rothschild are ready and willing to review and update the trust should Ms. Winfrey desire.

Conclusion

 You do not have to be a rich celebrity to ensure your pet will be taken care of until his/her last breath. Contact your animal law attorney today to make sure your companion will always be cared for in the manner you wish.

Candice Iheme is a Summer Associate in the Princeton, New Jersey office.

[1] The Perfect Pet Trust: Saving Your Dog From the Unexpected, 9 Alb. Gov’t L. Rev. 107, 110

[2] N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts Law § 7-8.1 (McKinney)

[3] In re Copland, 44 Misc. 3d 485, 489, 988 N.Y.S.2d 458, 461 (Sur. 2014)

[4] For example, what if the trustee decides that properly caring for the testator’s pet means it needs to be taken on 50-mile car rides in a Ferrari every day?  If the pet guardian and trustee are the same person, there will be no one who is checking in to make sure the allocated funds are not being misappropriated.

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-47305450

[6] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/oprah-reportedly-leaving-_n_64477