Establishing a Trust for Your AnimalsSeptember 11th, 2009
Without fuss or fanfare, significant changes are occurring in the field of estate planning and trust law. And they're having a big impact not only on your ability to provide for the animals you love, but on how the courts view the emotional and financial bonds between humans and nonhumans generally.
For decades, trust attorneys have struggled to help animal lovers who wanted to provide for their nonhuman companions after they're gone. These estate advisors typically told their clients to transfer "ownership" of companion animals — as well as money for their care — to someone they had complete faith in. That faith had to be well-earned indeed, because trusts for animals were not traditionally enforceable. If the friend or family member you chose didn't use the money as stipulated in the trust, there was little a judge could do about it.
In other words, there was no guarantee that your wishes would be honored — or that the animals would be cared for.
But that's no longer the case in a growing number of states. Working behind the scenes with experts in trust law — including the attorneys who drafted the Uniform Probate and Trust Code, the uniform laws that many states adopt as their own — ALDF has helped craft new guidelines that specifically validate enforceable trusts for nonhuman animals. These new rules have already been adopted by the District of Columbia and 41 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
Don't see your state listed above? Then it's time to turn up the volume a notch — by letting your state legislators know how important this issue is to you. To learn what you can do, click here. If you want to take a look at the Uniform Trust Code yourself — or pass along a copy to a financial advisor or elected official — click here.
By bringing attention to the Uniform Trust Code, we can accelerate the trend toward adoption of trust provisions that enable us to provide for our animal companions' welfare after we've gone. In a nation that regards companion animals as family members, it's only natural that people would want to include those animals in their estate planning. And the more courts are forced to acknowledge the special bonds between humans and nonhumans, the closer we are as a society to extending true, lasting, legal protection to animals.
An excellent resource on estate planning for companion animals is "All My Children Wear Fur Coats" by Peggy R. Hoyt, J.D., MBA. The book may be ordered online at www.legacyforyourpet.com.
If you live in a state that has enacted nonhuman animal trust laws, and would like to establish a trust for your animals, contact an estate planning attorney.