Taking Care of Your Smallest “Children”

For many of us (myself included), pets play an important role in our lives. Whether dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, reptiles, or other animals, they become part of your family and, in exchange for providing comfort and love, they ask only for shelter, food, and the occasional belly rub. But what will happen to your pets if you’re no longer available to take care of them? In Massachusetts, under G.L. c. 203E, § 408, you can create a Trust for Care of an Animal (a “Pet Trust”) to provide for your pet’s needs when you’re not able to.

To ensure that your pet receives the care they deserve, and that trust funds are being used for that purpose and are not expended frivolously, a Pet Trust should identify people to serve in at least three roles. The first role is the trustee. The trustee is the person in charge of maintaining and investing the funds held by the trust, providing an accounting of the funds when requested, and disbursing the funds for the care of your pet when needed.

The second role is a caretaker. The caretaker is the person who will actually house, feed, or care for your pet, and will make requests to the trustee for the costs of this care. This person should be someone who cares about animals, has a close tie to you or your pet, and who would have the ability and time to care for your pet.

The third role is the trust enforcer. The enforcer is the person who will act on your pet’s behalf, and who can force the trustee to take action or to disburse funds for the care of your pet. (The caretaker can also force the trustee to take action, but having separate people fill these roles will help ensure the requests for funds are both reasonable and balance the immediate needs of the pet against the desire to maintain trust principal for the pet in the future.)

You can provide additional guidance within the Pet Trust to describe the care your pets should receive, to address different situations that might arise, and to name one or more people that the trustee, caretaker, and enforcer could refer to when big decisions need to be made. A Pet Trust will continue to exist until the death of your last pet. If necessary, the probate court can name the trustee or enforcer, and an application to do so can be made by any interested individual or charitable organization, but naming these individuals (along with alternates) in your trust document will allow you to choose the right people to fill those roles, and will give you security that your pets will be well cared for no matter what.

If you have any questions about the creation of pet trusts, or any other estate planning issues, contact me at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.