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| 1 minute read

Don't forget your pet

You love your pet. But you worry about who will take care of her when you're gone, should she outlive you. You don't want her going back to foster care, and your only sibling isn't a dog person. You'd love for her to go to one of your good friends--who you know will take great care of her--but you know such a verbal agreement may not hold up and never would be enforceable. This is where pet trusts come in.

New York's Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 7-8.1 provides, "A trust for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal is valid." A trustee, according to the same section, may be designated by the pet's owner or otherwise may be appointed by a court. The trust terminates when the animal passes away.

According to subsection (d) of the statute, a court can reduce the amount of the trust property if that amount is determined to be excessive.  One case, though, shows how difficult obtaining such a reduction can be. In In re Copeland, 988 N.Y.S.2d 458 (Surr. Ct. Westchester Cty. 2014), the trustee of a pet trust petitioned the Surrogate's Court to reduce the amount of the trust so that more funds could be donated to charity. There, the decedent set up a trust to pay her housekeeper $40,000 a year to care for her cats and additional funds to live in and care for the decedent's home. The trustee, in his petition, suggested that the decedent's home be sold, the housekeeper move to a more affordable residence, and trust funds be donated to charities at that point, rather than when the last cat died, as the decedent had instructed. The Court rejected the trustee's petition, holding that granting it would go against the decedent's wishes and "rewrite the decedent's will." 

Currently, each state has a pet trust law, with some states, such as New York, allowing courts the option to reduce the amount in the trust.

New York NY CLS EPTL § 7-8.1 Year of Enactment: 1996 Amended: 2010 Summary of law: A trust may be created for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal. The trust terminates when the animal beneficiary or beneficiaries of such trust are no longer alive.


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