The ASPCA reports that over 62% of American households have pets today. Animals have increasingly become more important to families. Traditionally, the law recognized animals as property, however legislators have come to recognize that many animals are situated in a modern family between being more than property but not quite human. Pets are often considered a member of the family. So the question becomes: who takes care of the animal when its owner passes away?
On October 1, 2009, Maryland created legally enforceable trusts specifically benefiting animals by providing a broad policy but giving little guidance on how to assure that the wishes of the deceased pet owner are actually followed.
Specificity is key in creating a pet trust in Maryland. While there are two options, creating a pet trust in a last will and testament or creating a pet trust in a revocable living will, there are several steps in which the creator will want to be as explicit as possible.
First, identify the animal(s). Pictures, microchips, tattoos, detailed descriptions, etc. can be used to specify which animals are included. It may also be helpful to include a provision that will also cover any animals acquired after the trust is created to avoid residual updates.
Next, identify the parties to the trust. Appointing a caregiver requires a great deal of thought. This decision should be made after considering the physical capabilities of an individual and confirming their willingness to care for the animal. A trustee is also necessary. The trustee will manage the funds and should have time to check in on the health and safety of the animal(s). It is a good idea to make the trustee and the caregiver different people as a method of checks and balances.
Now, determine how much money to put in the trust. Many states restrict the amount to “reasonable” or what is actually required to care for the animal throughout its life. Factors to consider are the type of animal, its health history, and the lifestyle the animal is accustomed to living. Again, specificity here is crucial. By identifying specific costs, it shows that the creator has put significant effort into assuring that their animal will be well cared for.
The final step is identifying a remainder beneficiary who will get any money left after the death of the last surviving animal. The remainder beneficiary should not be the caregiver or trustee to avoid any conflicts of interest between the health of the animal and its death. It is not uncommon for a remainder beneficiary to be an animal rescue or advocacy group.
Providing for their care after our death can keep our beloved pets and family members out of a shelter and in loving arms. Just remember to be specific about your wishes and select the best and most willing parties to take care of your animals.