Creating a Trust for Your Pet
Our Denver Estate Planning Attorney Explains Your Options
In the 1940's President Truman was quoted as saying:"if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." More than a half century later "man's best friend" (and other domestic pets) are even more popular, and not just in Washington. A recent survey conducted by the National Pet Owners found that 72.9 million American households own one or more pets and that in most households the pets are considered family members. It has become commonplace in the last few decades for pet owners to provide for their furry or feathered companion in their will or trust.
Legal Protections for Your Pets
Given our love of animals, it is not surprising that the Colorado Legislature passed a law in 1994 recognizing the right of individuals to create "honorary trusts for pets."
Essentially, this Act provides that you may:
- Appoint a Trustee to manage the Trust
- Allocate funds to care for the pet
- Leave a portion (or all) of your estate to a pet or to that pet's offspring
- Impose conditions and requirements on your Trustee for the care of the pet
- Designate where the pet is to live
- Determine who will receive any funds that are remaining after the "pet beneficiaries" are deceased
Unfortunately, the "Honorary Trust for Pets Statute" is not widely known, and thus many pet owners are unaware that they can provide for the care of their pet after their deaths. Others are aware of the statute, but believe that they will outlive their pet or that a friend or neighbor will ensure that the pet is placed in a suitable home.
However, an owner's sudden illness or death may result in the pet becoming homeless or shipped to an animal shelter. Seniors in particular, often with few or no remaining family members, worry over what will happen to their pets if they should die or have to move to assisted living or a nursing home.
Develop a Plan to Provide for Your Pet
As a starting point, pet owners should develop a plan, either in your will or living revocable trust that can address the needs of your pet in the event of your death. The plan should designate a family member, neighbor, or friend who has agreed to serve as a temporary caregiver during the administration of your estate.
It is prudent to select someone who knows your pet and who has successfully cared for a pet of their own. Whenever possible, select someone who does not currently have a pet or who has a pet that would be compatible with yours. If you have more than one pet, they should be kept together if possible, especially if they have bonded. Finally, keep in contact with the designated caregiver over time to ensure that his or her circumstances have not changed, and that he or she is still willing to care for your pet.
Providing for Your Pet in a Will vs. in a Trust
In making provisions for the care of your pet, you will need to decide whether to utilize a will or a trust. In many cases, a will may be adequate, but a living revocable trust is preferable because the provisions take effect if you become incapacitated, which ensures that your pet is taken care of regardless of the situation. A Trustee also remains "on the job" until the death of your pet and can monitor the care of your pet and make sure your instructions are followed.
Colorado law does not limit the amount of the bequest to your pet, nor does it require any specific language to be inserted in your will or trust. However, if a dispute arises, such as by disinherited family members or disgruntled beneficiaries, the matter will wind up in court, which can be both expensive and time consuming.
It is important to secure the advice of an experienced Denver estate planning lawyer who has the knowledge necessary to draft provisions for the care of your pet that will give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your best friend will have a good home and proper care after you are gone.