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Planning your estate is usually not a simple task and often requires you to make tough decisions regarding who gets what. Step one is to determine what constitutes the estate and obvious items are a house, bank account or 401k plan. What is not so obvious, and should not be overlooked,are our pets. Pets are important parts of our lives and to many pet owners, they are part of the family--it is only fair that New York laws provide a tool to ensure that a pet is cared for after someone has passed away.

The New York legislature enacted §7-8.1 of the EPTL “Trusts for Pets” which permits a person to establish a trust for the care of any domestic or pet animal that terminates upon the death of the animal.  The full text of the statute can be accessed by clicking here.

Establishing a pet trust removes much of the risk of simply leaving an animal to someone,hoping that he/she takes good care of your pet and imposes an additional check and balance since the trust is subject to court supervision and intervention, if necessary. Unlike an ordinary beneficiary under a Will, a trustee has an obligation to ensure that the terms of the trust are honored and the animal is cared for according to those terms. Moreover, the statute provides that (absent wording to the contrary) the funds in the trust must be used only for the animal and not for any other purpose and grants numerous powers to the court. It may appoint a trustee, intervene if the trust terms are not being carried out and reduce the funds held in trust if it determines the amount “substantially exceeds” its intended use.

If you decideto create a pet trust, here are some helpful things to keep in mind:

  1. Discuss with the to-be caretaker his/her role and responsibility to care for the pet that way there is no “surprise” when someone finds out a pet owner wanted that person to care for the pet.
  2. Make advance arrangements for the care of the pet until the Will is admitted to probate to avoid any confusion or lapse in care in the time between date of death and granting of letters testamentary.
  3. Include a provision in the Will that empowers the Executor to use funds in the estate to care for the pet until the pet goes to the caretaker.
  4. Only leave a reasonable amount to care for the pet in order to avoid any challenges by disgruntled heirs to the terms of the trust or reductions by the court. (In one instance, after a side agreement was reached by all interested parties, the court entered an order reducing the $12 million left in trust for a dog to $2 million).
  5. When determining the amount to leave, consider the age of the pet along with all other normal expenses incurred in the past such as grooming, veterinary costs, medicines, food.
  6. If the pet will be left to a shelter or charity, research that organization and consider leaving cash funds to the organization in order to achieve a better result.
  7. Consider where any remaining funds should go after the pet dies and indicate such in the trust.
  8. Be as specific as possible as a court will look to the pet owner’s intent.

Overall, a pet trust is a much better way to ensure that a pet continues to receive the care and attention that it received while the owner was alive. If you are interested in establishing a pet trust, please contact us and we would be happy to help you.