People love their pets, and with some regularity, clients express a desire to leave money to special trusts for the care of their pets. Leona Helmsley made this type of planning famous by providing in her estate plan for a $12 million trust for the benefit of her Maltese, Trouble. These types of gifts or bequests are specifically permitted in New Jersey and New York, but must follow certain rules.
In New Jersey, N.J.S.A 3B:11-38 validates trusts for domesticated animals. This statute provides that the term of the pet trust can be for the life of the animal covered under the trust or the end of 21 years, whichever occurs earlier. It will be important to appoint a trustee as well as a successor trustee to follow the terms outlined in the trust, including caring for the pet. The trust also should provide for the disposition of any balance remaining in the trust at the trust’s termination.
Under the pet trust statute, New Jersey courts are able to reduce the amount allocated to the trust if it is determined that the amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use of the trust.
In New York, E.P.T.L 7-8.1 validates pet trusts. For the most part, the New York statute mirrors the New Jersey statute, except that a New York pet trust can last longer than 21 years if the animal survives longer than 21 years. Note that the pet trust created by Leona Helmsley for Trouble was reduced under the New York statute as being too excessive.
Typically, pet trusts are created under the pet owner’s Will, but they also can be created during life.