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  • Michael J. Greenberg

Create a Pet Trust Now to Care for the Companion You Love

Once upon a time, family was just those people with whom we share genetics or a relationship through marriage. Today, we know that family is much more - those you love and who love you, no matter what. It can be dear friends, who are there for us through our hardest challenges.


For many, it best describes a beloved and loyal pet.


For those individuals that would do anything for their dogs or cats, it can be stressful to consider what might happen to their dear companions if they can no longer care for them. Luckily, there is a solution - something called a Pet Trust. A Pet Trust is a type of trust, either created during a persons’ life or at the time of their death, that sets aside funds for the care of one or more pets.


Pet Trusts have gained considerable popularity in the past decades. New York state legislature acknowledged them in 1996, and almost all states have some statute relating to pet trusts and their care (see link below).


Billionaire hotelier and real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley created a $12 million trust for her small companion Maltese, Trouble, upon her death in 2007. The media had a field day with the story, painting the dog as a spoiled pup. However, it certainly publicized the notion of a pet trust.


For those that are pet owners know, our furry friends can be very expensive (though likely not as expensive as Trouble Helmsley, who required a bodyguard because of multiple death threats).


According to a survey by Rover.com, annual costs of essentials for dog ownership in 2022 range from $480 to $3470 a year. This is before grooming, dental cleanings, and dog walkers.


By working with a trusts and estates attorney to include a pet trust within your planning, you can ensure that your loyal companion is cared for and won’t burden your friends financially.


A recent advice column included a conflicted pet owner that received three Shih Tzus and the associated pet trust after the death of a friend. The letter writer did not want the dogs, but felt conflicted whether to keep them in order to collect the remainder of the trust monies after they pass.


While it is unfortunate that the letter writer is unhappy, the trust is doing its job. First, the animals are still together, which was the trust creator’s goal. It would likely be hard to secure independent adoption for three pets together. Second, they are safe, albeit not optimally placed. One should bequeath a pet in a trust rather than outright in a will in case the new owner isn’t as enamored with the pets as you are. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to safeguard the assets within, in this case the pet. An outright owner does not.


I recommend talking to your friends now and asking them, much like you would a potential guardian for minor children, whether they would be willing and able to care for your pet after you are gone. You should bequeath your pets to someone who will love and care for them as much as you. With a Pet Trust, you can continue to care for your family after you are gone and your furry companions won’t become a financial burden on their new families.


Feel free to reach out to Michael Greenberg for a consultation to discuss how best to protect your beloved pet.


Resources & Links:

NY State law enabling Pet Trusts

Letter from inheritor of three Shih Tzus

Last Blog Post: I’m single with no children. Why do I need an Estate Plan?