Financing Fido and Money for Mittens
When outlining an estate plan, many individuals’ first thoughts naturally turn to the care and maintenance of their spouse, children, siblings, parents, and friends after they pass away. But what does the law allow for the care and maintenance of our furry companions, if anything?
Many would argue that the classification of animals as personal property by our legal system is a callous oversimplification of the nuanced relationship we enjoy with our pets. Alas, that pets are property is a long-standing legal concept that is not likely to change any time soon. As they are considered property themselves, animals are not permitted to own property, nor can they be granted property rights.
Given the inability to leave an inheritance directly to our faithful canine, feline, equine, or feathered friends, how can we be sure that they receive proper care according to our instructions when we are gone? The answer to this question may be found in NRS 163.0075, which specifically recognizes that “[a] trust created for the care of one or more animals that are alive at the time of the settlor’s death is valid.” A “Pet Trust” created according to NRS 163.0075 will be in effect for the life of the animal, or animals, covered by the terms of the trust. The Pet Trust will automatically terminate when the all animals covered by the terms of the trust have passed on.
After a Pet Trust is created, the intended use of the trust may be enforced by the trustee identified by the settlor (creator of the trust), or a person appointed by the court to act as trustee. A person with a demonstrated interest in the welfare of the animal may also petition the court for an order appointing them trustee, or even to remove the existing trustee. The law requires that the court gives preference for appointment as trustee to a person who demonstrates such an interest in the welfare of the animal. It is important to be aware that the amount of money directed to the care and maintenance of a pet via a Pet Trust must be reasonable. If a court determines that the value of a Pet Trust exceeds the amount required to care for the animal beneficiary, the excess amount must be distributed to the person who would have taken the trust property if the trust had terminated on the date of the distribution.
Because trustees are charged with fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries of the trust, a Pet Trust is a convenient tool in the estate planning realm to ensure that our beloved “animal beneficiaries” are afforded the same level of care and support they received from their owner during the owner’s lifetime. If you have questions regarding the best form of estate plan for you and your family (furry or not), contact an attorney at Lemons, Grundy & Eisenberg to see if we can assist you.