According to the Humane Society, nearly two-thirds of American households have a pet. The majority of those pet owners consider their pets to be family members. Given these statistics, it is not surprising that a growing number of people are wondering how to include their pets in their estate plan. At present - in Minnesota - there are a couple options. However, a new option may become available with recent proposed legislation.
At a minimum, pet owners should recognize that they can leave their pets to an individual or charity. You might have someone in mind immediately that you know would care for your beloved animal companion just as you would. By including that person in your estate plan, you can ensure that your pet ends up in their care. In this situation, you might also include some funds to that person with the intent that they would use it to pay for care for your pet. Like us, pets often require more medical care as they get older. Leaving a small bequest can help manage some of these expenses.
On the other hand, there might not be any person that you know that would be a suitable match for your pet. In this situation, you could check out some local shelters or specialty animal groups that would care for pets after the owner (or "pet parent") dies. Just like in the case of an individual, it would make sense to leave a small bequest to the shelter for continuing care costs. If you are considering this option for your pets, you should be sure to check with the shelter or group ahead of time so you know your pets will always receive the care and comfort they deserve.
In every state except Minnesota, the other option is a "pet trust." Although the pet trust has been adopted in every other state plus the District of Columbia, Minnesota stands apart. However, there have been continuing efforts by legislators to bring us up to speed. See SF 1196 which was introduced this session. If this law is passed, it will give Minnesota pet owners the power to create a trust to provide for their pets. Under a pet trust, a person may be appointed by you to manage the trust for the benefit of the pet. The benefit of this option over the other two is that the person managing the trust has a fiduciary duty to manage the trust for the pets. It can also give you some confidence and more flexibility when funding the trust since you can designate to whom the excess assets will pass after your pet's death.
May 24, 2016 UPDATE: the proposed pet trust bill did pass and was signed into law! Pet trusts are now an option for Minnesota pet owners.
Our attorneys are committed to crafting estate plans that reflect your goals. If you intend to include your pets in your will or trust, please let us know. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 507-288-5567.