Will Power

Posted by April Nockleby, ALDF's Online Content Manager on November 18, 2008

Montana has had one since 1993. Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas all got on board in 2005. In fact, 39 states and the District of Columbia now have laws ensuring that trusts for companion animals are legally enforceable.

Pet trusts received a lot of attention, both positive and negative, shortly after Leona Helmsley died in August 2007, leaving a $12 million trust fund to Trouble, her nine-year-old Maltese. While some people criticized the late billionaire’s pet trust as extravagant, the story highlighted the importance of including companion animals in estate plans as a means for providing continued veterinary care, food, water and companionship.

Up until recently, a guardian who wished to provide for the support of her companion animal could create an “honorary trust,” but there was no guarantee that the animal would actually be cared for and, in fact, many companion animals were literally left out in the cold.

Pet trusts give you peace of mind but must be carefully considered. Here are a few points to remember:

  • See the article “Estabishing a Trust for Your Animals” to find out if your state has passed legislation to allow trusts for companion animals. If your state is listed, consider creating a trust for the care of your companion animals. If your state in not listed, contact your state legislator and let him or her know that this issue is important to you.
  • The person you select as the trustee should be someone you feel certain will do what is best for your companion animals and will act responsibly.
  • In creating a pet trust, an owner must name a trustee (to handle the funds) and a caretaker (to provide the physical care of your companion animals). One person can act in both roles. Provide that person or persons with detailed, written instructions about the care of your animals.
  • Don’t forget to plan ahead in writing for the care of your companion animals in the event that you become ill, hospitalized or incapacitated. Make the necessary arrangements with friends or family members: give them access to your home, contact information for your veterinarian and detailed instructions about care. Make sure your family knows that this arrangement is authorized by you.
  • Do the math: what would your companion animal need in terms of food and medical expenses to continue living the life he or she currently has?
  • Discuss your wishes and needs with a qualified estate planning attorney to determine the best course of action for you.