Many people ask if they can leave their assets to their pets. What they usually mean is, can they make sure their pets are taken care of when they pass away. We love our pets and want what is best for them.
New Hampshire has a statute that allows a person to make a trust for the care of their pet in the event that they pass away or become incapacitated while their pet is still alive. The trust needs to be for the care of a pet that is alive at the time you make the trust, and the trust ends upon the death of your pet, or if you have multiple pets, at the death of the last surviving pet. The trust can’t be meant for pets you might get in the future though, only the pets you have at the time of making your trust. In your trust document, you need to clearly describe and identify the pet or pets you want taken care of upon your death.
Since pets are legally considered property, even if they aren’t treated as such, they can’t own your property, so they have to instead be the beneficiary. In your trust document, you can appoint a person to take care of your pet and you can allow that person use of money in the trust for the sole purpose of the care and maintenance of your pet.
The most likely scenario is that you would make your own revocable trust and within that trust document, you state that upon your death, you want a separate bank account set up so that whoever is taking care of your pet has money to use. That person can be the caretaker of your pet or the trustee of your trust, or both. If you don’t want the caretaker to be in charge of the money, then you can appoint a trustee that will give money to the caretaker when needed and also to compensate the caretaker for their newfound responsibility. This is your trust so you specify what you want for your pet, while also taking into consideration the extra cost and burden the caretaker is taking on.
You also need to decide who you want as the remainder beneficiary. In case there is money left over after your pet dies, the remainder beneficiary would receive the leftover money. One thing to think about is that it may be a conflict of interest to name the caretaker as the remainder beneficiary, because if the caretaker knows he is getting the leftover money, he may not want to spend as much money on your pet’s comfort and care.
Your estate planning attorney can, as one piece of your overall estate plan, help you protect your pets upon your passing or incapacity to give you peace of mind that they will be taken care of.
Andrea Nelson is an attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan who focuses her practice in the area of estate planning, including wills, trusts, health and financial powers of attorney. Attorney Nelson can be reached at [email protected].