Many New Yorkers worry about the possibility that their pets will outlive them. Many more make the mistake of thinking that a standard Last Will is sufficient to look after their pets’ interests when they die. Any New York estate planning attorney would caution that this is not necessarily the case.
Pets & The Standard Will
The assumption that a standard Will is enough to look after Fido once his owner is gone is based on sound legal principle. At common law, pets are treated as chattel, meaning that they are moveable items of property, not unlike livestock, your car, or the computer from which you read this article. Whatever sentimental attachment we give to pets has no bearing on their ability to be treated like any other item of property, whose owners are free to devise to their beneficiaries in a Will.
But when is a Will insufficient to look after your pet? You may have carefully selected which of your friends or relatives was most appropriate for the job. You may even have discussed the care of your pet with this person and drafted a corresponding Will provision to cover the expense of the pet’s care. What you may not have thought about, however, is what might happen to your pet during the probate process. It can take months or even years to effectively administer your Will, especially if the Will is contested. During this lengthy process, your pet may be left in a state of limbo at best or perhaps given away to a shelter at worst.
The Pet Trust
A better alternative is becoming more popular in a growing number of jurisdictions. The majority of states, including New York, allow for the creation of what is commonly termed a “pet trust.” A New York pet trust is a legal instrument in which a pet’s owner sets aside a sum of money exclusively for the pet’s future care. Like in a normal trust, the creator of a pet trust names a trustee or trustees whose responsibility will be to use the funds from the trust to care for the pet.
If you love your pet, selecting a pet trustee should be a solemn consideration for your pet’s well-being. If you own a dog, your pet trustee should be the type of person who has the room and capacity to care for a dog. In selecting a pet trustee, the pet owner should give careful consideration to things like the trustee’s home environment, including their children, their other pets, and any potential allergy issues. You owe it to your furry friend to provide a comfortable and happy environment, and you owe it to your trustees to ensure that the care for your pet is something they are happy to do – not forced to do.
A New York trust and estate lawyer can explain the requirements and limitations of a New York pet trust and help you evaluate whether a pet trust should be your last gift to man’s best friend.
An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will preparation and execution. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Queens and Brooklyn and throughout New York State in Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings for the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, for an initial consultation.