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Who Will Be There for Your Pet Upon Your Death?

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According to the American Pet Products Association’s annual survey for 2015-2016, approximately 65% of U.S. households own a pet.  This number is equivalent to approximately 79.7 million families owning a pet, with the largest concentration in dogs and cats.  Correspondingly, approximately 60 billion dollars was spent in 2015 on pets, including food, supplies, vet care, grooming and boarding.

Under Massachusetts law, your pet is treated as personal property and without provisions to the contrary, will pass under your will to your designated beneficiaries.  While many of us will speak informally with a family member or friend to take care of our pet, there are no guarantees for the pet’s well-being.  In 2011, Massachusetts enacted a Pet Trust Law as set forth in M.G.L. Chapter 203E, Section 408.

The Pet Trust law now allows your pet to be the beneficiary of a trust and provides some guidelines for the creation of trusts for the care of animals.  In particular, the law provides that the term of the trust is based upon the life of the pet or the survivor of the last of the identified animals, unless the trust instrument provides an earlier termination.

The statute also provides some protection for the animal in that it restricts distributions to the trustee to reasonable trustee fees, administration expenses and other costs which may be expressly provided for in the trust.

Conversely, a court has discretion to reduce the amount of property held by the trust if it determines that the amount set aside is substantially excessive to care for the pet and there will be no substantial impact regarding the pet’s care, maintenance or health.  Such was the case in the now famous matter of Trouble, Leona Hemsley’s prize white Maltese, where the court reduced the amount passing for the benefit of Trouble from 12 million to 2 million.

Upon the termination of the trust, or if the trust is reduced as stated above, the balance of the funds will pass in accordance with its terms.

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