The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Changes in the Law: Estate Planning for Pets

POSTED ON: January 10, 2011

Massachusetts has passed an estate planning bill that just may forever change the financial future of…your pets. That’s right; last week Gov. Patrick signed a bill that permits the establishment of trusts for the care of animals after their owners have died. Whether this concept strikes you as silly or whether you are relieved you can keep Fluffy in the lifestyle she’s grown accustomed to, this bill is another reminder of what estate planning is really about—letting you decide how your resources are handled.

Pet trusts were most recently in the headlines in 2007 after the death of billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley, who left $12 million of her vast estate to her Maltese. Although a court eventually reduced the amount to $2 million (poor thing), the case left the impression that pet trusts were nothing more than excesses of the uber-rich.

While pet trusts are certainly not for everyone, they do offer devoted pet owners a way to ensure their beloved sidekicks are well taken care of. Such arrangements may be especially appealing to residents who leave behind horses because of the high cost associated with their care. Previously, Massachusetts was one of only seven states in which residents were precluded from leaving money specifically for the care of a surviving pet. Residents were allowed, under the old laws, to name a caretaker for their pets and leave money to that caretaker, but there was no legal requirement for the caretaker to follow the deceased pet owner’s directions.

The new law permits the establishment of pet trusts that will remain valid until a date specified by the owner or until the animal dies. Caretakers are now legally prohibited from using any of the funds for other purposes. Further, if a person or organization believes that money set aside for pet care is being misused, the bill provides a legal avenue to enforce the deceased owner’s wishes.

Whether it’s to benefit your pet, your family, or your favorite cause, estate planning allows you to remain in control. Anyway, doesn’t Fluffy deserve a little love?