TRUSTS FOR PETS - THE BASICS
Special Concerns and Care
Perhaps, your pet is as important as having your own child. You need to plan a bit more for babies, seniors, and pets. Who will be the caretakers? Who will provide home, food, medical care, and personal attention? Where will the money come from to provide these items? Can your pet wait in a shelter for someone to step forward?
Trusts for pets are valid in all states and can last for the petís lifetime. A trust for more than one pet is permitted. You can provide for the relatives of the pet, the breed, your friends pets, the shelter pets, and certainly the caretakers.
Who enforces a trust for beneficiaries who cannot speak? The laws and provisions in the trust can provide that the trust may be enforced by a person designated by anyone in the trust agreement. If there is no such person, anyone interested in the welfare of the pet may request the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust. Ideally, the trust should provide for a succession of caretakers in the trust agreement. A trustee has all the rights of a ďnormalĒ trustee or beneficiary in enforcing the trust on behalf of the pet.
The trust can determine that a pet trust has been funded in any amount (even exceeding requirements) that is required for the trustís purposes. What is reasonably required to care for the grantorís pets varies from case to case. A trust for a parrot is likely to last much longer, and require more funds to accomplish its intended purpose, than a trust for a cat or a dog. If the trust has been over funded Ė then the excess assets would pass to the secondary beneficiaries designated in the trust agreement. This suggests selecting remainder beneficiaries who share the grantorís vision as to the care of the grantorís pets or organizations.
Drafting the best pet trust is not as simple as following standards. The presence of special beneficiaries raises a host of issues not present in trusts created for people. For example, the trust will need to consider, and draft for, beginning- and end-life issues. Are the pets' unexpected offspring also covered? If this is what the trust intends, the trust agreement should say so, and should contain authorization for the trustee to make the appropriate tests. End-life issues are more likely to present trouble in the real world. Remainder beneficiaries must be considered. What is the view of the humaneness of euthanizing an old or sick pet? To eliminate the possibility of trouble, the trust should designate a veterinarian familiar with the pet whose decisions on end-life issues are to be final.
The trust should be as specific as possible as to the care expected by the trustee to provide for the pets. The petís dietary, health care and exercise requirements should be clearly spelled out. If the beneficiary is a horse, is the trust to acquire a trailer to transport the horse? Should the trust provide for pet shows? What about friends for the pet? What about maintaining exercise? What about potential surgery? What about visitation from relatives? There is no substitute for an in-depth discussion about these types of issues. The trustee will thank you, even if the remainder beneficiaries may not.
The trustee does not have to be the person having actual custody of the pets. Many times, the trust will segregate the trusteeís money responsibilities from a caretakerís animal care responsibilities. If someone other than the trustee has custody of the pets, the trustee should be given authorization to take one or more steps set forth in the document (i.e., implantation of a microchip) to enable the trustee to make positive identification of the pet. Everyone has seen at least one movie where the pet dies under the care of a panic-stricken teenager who then tries, always unsuccessfully, to pass off an imposter as the real pet. Most trustees would not see the humor in this sort of thing.
If the person having custody of the pet is not the trustee, the trust agreement should provide for a succession of individual caregivers. The initially appointed caregiver may die, move away, or just plain get tired of working for a pet. The trustee should have the power to hire and fire custodians if certain conditions set forth in the trust agreement have been met. The trust should give the trustee the power to make an independent determination as to whether the caregiver is adequately providing for the petís welfare. Here again, the trust might leave that decision to a veterinarian appointed in the trust agreement, removing liability from the trustee for the veterinarianís decisions.