For those who share their lives with pets, the human-animal bond is life-long. Unfortunately, thousands of pets each year are surrendered to animal shelters because there plan for them or no funds available for their care. As of April 7, 2011, Massachusetts residents will be able to make sure that their furry companions will have long-term financial protection.
Under the terms of the new Pet Trust law, “pet parents” can create and fund a trust for the benefit of Fluffy or Fido (or an entire menagerie) during lifetime. Unless the trust says otherwise, the trust lasts until the last of the animals named in the document passes away. The trustee must use the assets for the sole benefit of the animals, although the trustee can pay herself for administrative expenses and reasonable trustee fees. The trust creator can transfer custody of the pet to the trustee during the creator's lifetime.
The law anticipates a “Leona Helmsley” situation, in which a trust is given vastly more funds than an animal will actually need. Thus, “a court may reduce the amount of property held by the trust if it that amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use and the court finds that there will be no substantial adverse impact in the care, maintenance, health, or appearance of the animal or animals.”
If the trust fund is reduced or the trust terminates, the remaining funds must be distributed as directed in the trust instrument. If there is no direction, the money goes back to the trust creator, if living. If the creator is dead and there's no direction, then disposition of the remaining assets will depend on whether the trust was created in a will — if it was, the funds will be transferred according to the residuary clause in the will. Otherwise, the funds will pass according to the Massachusetts intestacy law.
A pet trust is critical, but you still must designate who will have care and custody of your furry friend in the event of your incapacity or death. I recommend that you find someone who will agree to take in Tabby or Tuffy while you are well, then provide written directions to that person, your executor and attorney-in-fact and the pet trustee identifying who will care for the pet, the contact information for the pet's veterinarian, information about the pet's medical needs, behavioral issues (if any) and anything else which you think someone would need to know about your pet.