Over the last decade, it has become very common to see celebrities transporting their pets in cute purses or backpacks and dressing them in everything from sweatsuits to diamond collars. While this may be cute to some and offensive to others, celebrities are also remembering to make their pets a part of their estate planning.
We may have all heard stories about millionaire cats or dogs (I think I remember a Disney movie about a cat); however, it is likely that few people know that it is possible to provide for their pets after death. Today, a pet owner has many choices. Pet owners may leave very detailed instructions regarding a pet’s care in their Last Will & Testament or Living Trust.
Pet trusts, stand alone trusts that solely deal with the care of the pet, are also available. In Alabama, legislation was enacted recognizing a pet trust in 2006. The trust may be created while the pet owner is alive; or, at the pet owner’s death by a testamentary trust. The trust can stay in existence for as long as the pet owner’s pets remain alive. The trust will terminate upon the last pet’s death and any remaining assets in the trust will be distributed according to the trust document.
The trust names a trustee or trustees to oversee the care of the pets. The trustee may physically care for the animals; or, the trustee may hire a caregiver for the animals. Trusts vary widely in their provisions and requirements. For example, the pet owner may require that the pet owner’s home be maintained until all pets are deceased and that a caregiver provide care on-site so that the pets may continue to reside in their home. The trust may state that homes are to be found for the pets; and, specify the steps for securing appropriate new homes for the pets. The trust may even state how many times a day the dog is to be walked in its favorite dog park or given a certain treat. Literally, the possibilities for structuring a trust are as varied as the unique needs of the pets and the wishes of the pet owner.
Trusts may also contain various safeguard features that maintain oversight over a trustee so that the required care is provided for the pets. A pet board may even be established to ensure the pet receives all benefits specified in the trust. These features may be more important or necessary if the person that will later receive any remaining assets in the trust is to serve as the trustee. After all, that person would have a tempting reason to skimp on Spot’s care.
Pet trusts are not for everyone; but, for those of us who treat our pets as family members, a pet trust can be a perfect way to provide needed care for a beloved pet or pets.
Editor’s Note: Melanie B. Bradford is an attorney located in Scottsboro, Alabama at 803 Garland Ferry Road at the intersection of Veterans Drive and Garland Ferry near The Daily Sentinel. Her phone number is 256-259-3301. The Alabama State Bar requires any communication that may be interpreted as an ad to state: “No representation is made about the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.”