According to the 2015-16 APPA National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association, approximately 65% of all households in the United States have a pet. Along with pet ownership comes the responsibility of ensuring your companion animal's care and well-being - even if that extends beyond your lifetime. Westchester elder law attorney Anthony J. Enea of Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP in White Plains and Somers, N.Y. recently addressed the importance of protecting your pet's future and urges pet owners to consider including companions animals in their estate plan.
"One only needs to observe life's daily interactions to conclude that pets have become an integral part of the lives of many," said Anthony Enea. "The question most pet owners face is what steps they can undertake to ensure that their pet or other domestic animal is properly provided for in the event of their demise."
Historically, pets were most commonly provided for in the owner's Last Will and Testament. Pets could be left as a bequest to another with the hope that the animal(s) would be properly cared for. The Last Will could also specifically allocate a portion of the owner's estate for the care and maintenance of the pet(s).
"The problem with providing for pets in a Last Will is that the document can be contested for a reason unrelated to the pet," explained Enea. "There can also be a significant lapse of time between one's death and the appointment of the executor of said Last Will. These roadblocks can essentially leave the pet in a state of limbo. Because of these impediments, the wishes of pet owners have, in many instances, been thwarted by the use of a Last Will to provide for their pets."
In 1996, New York became one of the first states to enact a Pet Trust Statute permitting the creation of a trust for the care and maintenance of pets. The pet trust can be created and funded during the life of the creator as an "inter vivos trust" or it can be a testamentary trust, created in one's Last Will. At the end of the life of the pet or animal, the trust will terminate and the balance of the income and principal of the trust will be distributed per the wishes of the trust's creator.
Perhaps the most well-known pet trust was created by Leona Helmsley for her beloved white Maltese, Trouble. Although Trouble's trust was originally funded with twelve million dollars, the Manhattan Surrogate's Court ultimately reduced the size of the trust to two million dollars after determining it was significantly overfunded. Most pet trusts, however, are not so extravagant.
"Pet trusts are not solely for the wealthy and are not overly complex," said Enea. "While a pet trust can still be contested (especially if it is overfunded), it is often the best and most viable option of ensuring that your wishes are implemented."