Massachusetts Enacts New Pet Trust Law
Estate Planning for Pets
Massachusetts has enacted a law under which a pet can be the beneficiary of a trust.
The new law allows for an individual chosen by the owner, or appointed by the court, to enforce the terms of the trust for the pet's benefit.
On January 7, 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law "An Act Relative to Trusts for the Care of Animals", thus making Massachusetts the 44th state to enact a so-called "pet trust law". The new law, which became effective April 7, 2011, allows pet owners to create and fund trusts, either during life or at their death, for the benefit of their pets or other animals. In essence, the law allows pet owners to create an enforceable trust, of which one or more pets is the direct beneficiary, that can be monitored and enforced by the probate court if necessary.
Key provisions of the new law are as follows:
- Unless the trust document provides for an earlier termination, a pet trust will terminate on the death of the last surviving pet that was alive during the owner's lifetime.
With the exception of reasonable trustee fees and the normal expenses of administration, all funds in the trust must be used for the benefit of the pet beneficiaries.
A court may reduce the amount of funds in the trust only if it finds that there will be no substantial adverse impact in the care, maintenance, health, or appearance of the pet beneficiaries.
The use of the funds for the covered pet beneficiaries may be enforced by any number of people, including an individual designated for that purpose in the trust, by any person having custody of the animal, by a remainder beneficiary, or by an individual appointed by the court for that purpose. Any individual or charitable organization may seek such an appointment.
The court is also given the power to appoint a trustee and "make other orders and determinations as are advisable to carry out the intent of the settlor and the intended use of the trust".
Given these provisions, any pet trust executed pursuant to the new statute should name both a trustee and a pet guardian who would have the ability to oversee the trustee's (and pet caretaker's) actions to ensure that the trustee and caretaker are carrying out the trust's terms. Because the beneficiaries of the trust – such as dogs, cats, horses, or other pets – lack the ability to enforce the terms of the trust themselves, it is important to have an extra set of eyes to seek the court's involvement as necessary to ensure the pets are properly cared for.
The pet trusts contemplated by the new statute are different from "traditional" trusts for pets in that there need be no human beneficiary. Prior to the enactment of this statute, an owner could form a trust naming the pet's caretaker as a beneficiary, and provide funds to that caretaker for the benefit of the pet. The pet, however, had no rights under the trust. Under the new statute, the pet does have a direct interest in the trust, which may be enforced by any of the people listed above.
Finally, any trust for a pet should be only a part of a broader estate plan for the owner. There are numerous ways to ensure that an owner's pet or pets, as well as other beneficiaries, are cared for in the event of the owner's disability and or death. These options should be explored with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Should you have any questions with regard to this new law, or if you would like to discuss establishing a trust for you or your pet(s), please contact Attorney Michael Simolo at (413) 732-2301.