The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that 65 percent of U.S. households own at least one pet. Although we consider our pets as part of our family, the law considers them as personal property. Many states, however, are allowing legally enforceable documents that can guarantee a pet’s continuing care. So far, forty-six states and the District of Columbia have passed statutes specific to pet trusts – and Louisiana is in that number.
Prior to the adoption of pet trusts, it wasn’t unusual for a pet owner to bequeath a large sum of money to a trusted relative with the express condition that the relative care for the pet for the remainder of the pet’s life. The relative, of course, would accept the inheritance and agree to care for the pet for the pet’s lifetime. All too often, however, Rover would suffer an untimely demise, and that “trusted” relative would receive an “unexpected” windfall. Pet trusts have effectively remedied this coincidence.
Louisiana law allows you to create a pet trust for the care of one or more animals in existence on the date of the creation of the trust. The trust can be a stand-alone document, inserted into your will, or incorporated into an already existing revocable trust. The trust instrument should designate a trustee and a caregiver for each animal, as well as contingent beneficiaries.
The trustee will administer the funds set aside for the animals’ care and well-being, while the caregiver will have physical custody of the animal after your death and will be responsible for the animal’s care. If a caregiver is not designated, or if the designated caregiver is unable or unwilling to serve, the trustee may appoint a caregiver or substitute.
The trustee will hold and invest the funds, and disburse funds, as you direct, to the caregiver for the animal’s care. Any assets remaining in trust following the animal’s death are then disbursed to whomever you designate as the contingent beneficiary.
Assets held in a pet trust may be used only for the care of the animal and for compensation and expenses of the trustee and the caregiver, which you specify ahead of time. Louisiana law, does, however, limit the extent to which you can leave assets for your pet’s care. If a court determines that the value of the trust assets “substantially exceeds the amount required to care for each animal and for reasonable compensation and expenses of the trustee and the caregiver” the court may partially terminate the trust, but only as to the excess assets held in trust.
Pet trusts are relatively new to Louisiana, so if you are interested in utilizing this new option to provide for the care and well-being of your pet, you should seek the advice of an experienced estate planning specialist.
This article was originally published in Senior Living Magazine.