Leona Helmsley wanted to make sure someone cared for her pet after her death. She left $12 million to her dog, Trouble, in her estate plan. If it seems excessive, the probate court agreed. They reduced it to $2 million.
Most people with pets don’t have $2 million to bequest to them. Most people simply want to know that their pet will be cared for appropriately, by someone who loves them, and that their care will not be a financial burden on that caregiver.
Thankfully, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that allow for people to give money and designate a caregiver for their pets.
What Happens if I Die Without a Pet Trust?
In Massachusetts, pets are considered property. As such, you can leave them to a particular person in your Will. Any provisions for their care or maintenance, however, are not enforceable. Once the pet is given to the named beneficiary, the beneficiary can do what they want.
If there is someone in your life would love and care for your pet as you would, then establishing a pet trust is not necessary. You may also bequeath some money to that person, so your beloved pet does not become a financial burden. Legally, the person can spend that money however they want; but if you trust them to care for your pet, then — again — this is likely not a concern.
If something happens to you, where you are unable to care for your pet but you are still alive, you can add a provision to your Power of Attorney that allows your attorney-in-fact to make decisions regarding the health and care of your pet. (remember, pets are property and therefore, an attorney-in-fact can handle those decisions).
What Is a Pet Trust?
Caring for your pet after your death was a lot trickier until just a few years ago, when Massachusetts passed a sweeping trust reform bill that codified, among other things, pet trusts. (You can read the law here: MA Law on Pet Trusts).
What Does it Cost to Have a Pet Trust?