There are more pets than children in American households. For many people, old and young alike, pets are as much a part of their family as any human. There are health and financial benefits to owning a pet. Indeed, there is now an impressive body of scientific evidence, gathered over the last 30 years, that pets can help a person stay healthy, speed up recovery after major illness, manage blood pressure, protect the heart and blood vessels, deal with stress, improve mood and sense of well-being, lessen feelings of isolation and loneliness, and provide a sense of purpose. The National Center for Infectious Diseases reports on its website that “pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness.” For the elderly especially, a pet can dramatically improve their health.
But who will take care of the beloved pet that out-lives its owner? What will happen to the pet if its owner must transition her residence to a facility that does not allow pets? How can a person provide for the continued care of a pet who has given so much? Dixie, Elmo, Patch and Spats are Mildred’s family. They provide Mildred with loyalty, unconditional love, affection, and companionship. They have given her a purpose and a feeling of fulfillment. They depend on her for her own love of them and for the very best care she can offer. The right food. The right exercise. The right veterinary attention. The right medications. But what happens when Mildred is no longer able to care for her beloved “darlings”? She wonders, “How can I ensure that my pets will continue to receive proper care if I am unable to provide it myself? Who would take care of them? Who would understand their unique personalities?” Elmo the beagle lies around on the floor, couch or bed most of the time and craves an occasional scratch behind his ears. Dixie the poodle is frisky and high maintenance. Patch the cat likes Mildred’s lap, while her brother Spats prefers napping in the sun or under the bed spread. Many assisted and supportive living centers do not allow their residents to own pets. Mildred’s most disturbing thought is that her pets could be euthanized at a shelter or veterinary office if she dies or becomes incapacitated. The sad fact is that unless she makes appropriate arrangements, her fear could become a dreadful reality.
According to one estimate, one-half million pets are euthanized in shelters each year because their human care givers have predeceased them. A new Massachusetts law provides an answer: a trust for the care and feeding of Mildred’s pets. The new law allows a pet owner to set up a trust for the care of one or more designated domestic or pet animals. The law provides that no part of the principal or income of the trust may be converted to the use of the trustee or for any purpose not for the benefit of the covered animal. Another good feature of the new law allows the pet owner to name a person to enforce the terms of the trust and to make sure the person who is to take care of the pet lives up to his/her obligations. The trust terminates when there is no living animal covered by the trust. At that point, any unexpended trust property can be transferred [a] as directed in the trust, [b] under the residuary clause in the pet owner’s will, or [c] to the pet owner’s heirs. By “planning today for loving care tomorrow,” Mildred can meet her pets’ future needs while giving herself peace of mind. By consulting with an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about the new Massachusetts Pet Trust law, Mildred can be assured that her pets will be well-cared for when she is no longer able to care for them herself.
If you would like more information about Pet Trusts, call Attorney Beneski at Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. at 508-994-5200 to make an appointment.
©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street, Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton. This article is for illustration purposes only. This handout does not constitute legal advice. There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article. DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout. Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney. Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.