Law Office of A. Lee Shaw, PLLC
Pets are beloved members of families, and thus it is important they be included in estate planning. It is important to keep in mind, as pets are considered personal property, wills may not sufficiently provide for adequate care after an owner passes away. The purpose of a will is to distribute property, meaning it cannot legally enforce pet care instructions. Furthermore, any provisions in a will leaving funds to care for a pet are honorary and nothing prohibits the recipient of those funds from using them towards something other than caring for the pet. So, if a will does not guarantee your pet will be cared for, what can you do? One of the best ways to ensure your pets are cared for once you pass away is creating a pet trust, as it can provide additional protection and advantages that a will simply cannot, including enlisting a trustee who distributes funds and ensures the guardian of the pet follows the owner’s instructions.
What is a pet trust? Just like any trust, a pet trust is an estate-planning tool. However, pet trusts specifically provide for the care and maintenance of pets after a person passes away, as well as during a pet owner’s life if they become incapacitated. These trusts allow pet owners, the grantors, to financially support their beloved animals and designate a trustee who is responsible for carrying out the owner’s wishes in regard to the animals.
Kentucky Revised Statute 386B.4-080 governs the trusts for the care of animals in Kentucky. Specifically, the statute allows for the creation of trusts to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime. Unlike some states which only allow these types of trusts for “domestic” animals, Kentucky does not have restrictions on the type of animal that can be the beneficiary. This is helpful for owners of animals that might not fit under the “domestic” label that tend to live very long lives, including tortoises, which can live over a century, parrots, who have expected lifespans of thirty (30) to fifty (50) years, horses, which generally live into their mid-twenties, snakes, who can live over thirty (30) years, and even koi fish, whose average lifespan can cross decades. (https://www.newsweek.com/pets-that-live-longest-tortoise-parrot-fish-1602899). However, Kentucky does slightly limit the value of the trust property and if the court determines it exceeds the amount required for the intended use, it will distribute the excess to the settlor, if living, otherwise to the settlor’s successors in interest.
Once you have determined you want to create a trust for the care of your pet, what should be included? First, the trust should state the pet(s) being covered and should contain a detailed description of each pet. Second, the trust should establish a caretaker and include instructions for care, including consideration for the transition to the new owner/caretaker and the professionals (veterinarians, groomers, trainers, etc.) with whom the pet is accustomed. Third, a trustee should be appointed. Fourth, the trust should contain instructions on what to do with any money remaining in the trust once the animal passes away—many grantors opt to have these funds donated to their favorite animal welfare charities. Finally, the trust should include instructions tailored to the possible incapacitation of the grantor (pet owner).
Overall, pet trusts can give you the reassurance that your beloved family members, who just so happen to be animals, will continue to receive the standard of care you desire once you pass away. These trusts can be a great asset in any pet owners’ estate planning!
Natalie Nelson, Attorney. April 7, 2022