While driving to work yesterday, I began to think about what would happen if I died today? I have relatively few real assets: a car, a few bank accounts and some jewelry. All of that would go to my husband, Ryan. I have no children, but I do have a 1 year old Lab-mix named Ollie. Ollie sure acts like a big baby sometimes despite the fact that he can put his paws on my shoulders and weighs in at about 65 lbs. While I may attribute human characteristics to Ollie and treat him as an important member of my family, in the eyes of the law he is just another piece of property.
We often plan for the fate of our homes, cars, jewelry and heirlooms, but what about our pets? Sadly, our pets are often overlooked in traditional estate planning. According to the American Pet Products Association (“APPA”), 62% of U.S. households own at least one pet. Our pets range from cats and dogs to horses and pythons. Over 500,000 pets end up in shelters each year due to the pet owner’s death or incapacity. Of those, up to half may be subject to euthanization.
While it may be difficult to put Ollie in the same category as a couch or grandma’s china, it is important to plan for our pets so that they can be cared for even after we are gone. Unlike grandma’s china, Ollie would be costly to maintain, and that may be too much to ask of surviving loved ones.
Well, there’s costly, and then there’s extravagant. “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley left $12 Million in Trust for the care of her beloved Maltese, Trouble, when she died in 2007. While the Court eventually reduced the trust to $2 Million, Trouble’s annual expenses until his death in 2011 are estimated to have been approximately $190,000 per year. However neither Ollie nor your everyday household pet will require a $12 Million trust for care during its life. According to the APPA, the average dog will incur approximately $1,500 in expenses each year, while the typical cat may only incur approximately $1,200. Not every dog requires a personal security team like Trouble did. The annual expense for your pet may vary depending on his or her lifestyle, favorite foods, grooming expectations, toys and medical condition.
When choosing someone to care for your pet it’s important to choose someone who is willing and able . Leona Helmsley appointed her son as Trouble’s caretaker, but he refused. Ultimately, the manager of one of Helmsley’s hotels agreed to take care of Trouble.
While Trouble was lucky that someone was willing to take her in, other pets aren’t as fortunate. I would choose at least one alternate caretaker and, as a last resort, a no-kill animal shelter or rescue organization that can find a loving home for Ollie in the event that the appointed caretakers are unable to care for him.
In all likelihood, the trust you create for your pet will outlive your pet. In that case, it is important that you appoint a beneficiary to receive the remainder of the trust upon your pet’s death. The beneficiary can be an individual or a charity. Humane Societies and rescue organizations are popular choices. Ryan and I adopted Ollie from a rescue organization called Buffalo Paws and Claws; it is likely that when we set up a trust for Ollie’s care we will leave the remainder to that organization so that they can continue to place rescued animals in forever homes.
The moral of the story is this: the law may treat our pets like personal property, but many us of consider them a part of our families. When we die we should consider who will care for them, and what funds may be needed to do so.
 Shidoon Aflatooni, The Statutory Pet Trust, 18 Animal L. 1 2011 at 3
 Shidoon Aflatooni, The Statutory Pet Trust, 18 Animal L. 1 2011at 3