According to Dan Meek, a pet trust lawyer in Naples, Florida, Americans will dish out more than $52 billion on their pets every year. But, what happens to Fido and Miss Kitty if they outlive their owners?
That’s where Meek comes in. As an attorney who specializes in pet trusts, Meek counsels clients on how to provide for their beloved animals if the owner dies first. “People’s pets are more and more like their children, especially as owners age,” Meek says. Because of that, an increasing number of animal lovers are opting for a pet trust, a written declaration of how the pet owner wishes their animal to be cared for if it outlives the owner.
There are several matters to consider when creating a viable pet trust, Meek says. Among them are:
• Fund the trust with enough money to pay for the pet’s medical care, food and other needs for the remainder of the animal’s life expectancy.
• Determine whether the trust should go into effect upon the pet owner’s death or if it is should be funded and viable during the owner’s life.
• Select a caregiver who will follow your directives as to how to care for your pets.
• Don’t just assume the person you select as caregiver will agree to take on the responsibility. Discuss it with them first.
• Name several successor caregivers in your pet trust in case anyone you’ve selected dies before you or simply opts not to take on the responsibility when the time for it actually arrives.
A Couple Who Trust
When Mark and Dee Rush revamped their estate planning documents in 2011, they decided to make provisions for their beloved pets, too. The childless couple are pet parents to Minerva, who was an abused six-month-old puppy when the Rushes adopted her in 2004 and Patchouli, a cat Mrs. Rush’s sister found roaming a bike trail in 2006.
The Columbus, Ohio, couple needed to update their Last Will and Testament and other testamentary documents because their original ones included information relating to a business Mr. Rush sold in 2008. Fortunately for pet lovers like the Rushes, the Ohio Trust Code was amended in January 2007 to specifically permit the creation of a pet trust.
Before the statutory change, Ohio allowed “honorary pet trusts,” meaning a pet owner could request that moneys be set aside from their trust to care for their pet but the clause was not enforceable, says Thomas Bonasera, a Columbus partner with Dinsmore and Shohl, LLP and a Fellow of the American College and Trust and Estate Counsel.
According to the Columbus lawyer who prepared the Rush’s estate planning documents, a pet trust is a way “to leave money in a trust so a pet can be cared for post-mortem,” says Richard Meyer (no relation to the writer). Meyer, an Ohio Supreme Court board-certified estate planning, trusts and probate lawyer and founding partner of Browning Meyer & Ball Co., LPA, says a pet trust “ensures money will be preserved for the pet and the pet’s needs.”
Ohio is among the 47 states, along with Washington, DC, with laws permitting the creation of a pet trust. According to Meek, the three states without similar statutes are Kentucky, Louisiana and Missouri.
Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer. She serves Of Counsel to the Consumer Attorneys of America and is an oft-published writer. Her most recently published article is in the Spring 2014 issue of the National Trial Lawyer’s magazine, where her profile of famed civil rights attorney Gloria Allred appears.