Pet trusts are no longer the exclusive province of the rich and famous, but a recent article in Trust Advisor reports that while Americans spend lavishly on our pets, they are still considered property and don’t have legal status or protection. According to “Britney Spears Pet Fetish Feeds New Estate Planning Craze,” whether you’re talking about protecting Britney’s pampered pooches or just an average American pet, you’ll need a pet trust to protect companion animals, if you become incapacitated or pass away.
While most of us want to ensure that our pets have loving care, rumors of the expense of Britney’s dogs gives us a view of some of the upper limits—or lack thereof—of how much modern pet pampering can cost. Britney spends about $30,000 a year on her dogs. This is enough to support over 100 typical American pets. One haircut for one of her dogs would feed an average animal for a year.
While the amount that Americans spend on our pets has skyrocketed 73% over the past 10 years, a real animal lover really must push hard to spend what Britney does on her young, healthy dogs. But if something were to happen to her, there would be no certainty that her furry kids would receive any of her millions. That money would likely go to her human children. Guardianship and custody arrangements aren’t binding when the “pet parent” passes away. Britney’s will could bequeath the dogs to a friend or relative, but there’s no assurance they’d care for them in the same way she did. That is why a pet trust can be vital.
Like a trust for human beneficiaries, the goal of a pet trust is to create a structure that can continue after the original pet parent or owner dies. Pet trusts typically are revocable. The money would transfer into the trustee’s control in the event of death or disability.
A pet trust should provide for the appointment of successor trustees and designated caretakers for the animals. This may not always be a concern because we will usually outlive even puppies and kittens. Nonetheless, it’s always good to be thorough. Britney will probably survive all of her current dog pack. But to make sure nobody gets left out, she should define the beneficiaries for all of her pets when she dies. Dogs won’t likely outlive the trust wherever it’s set up, but horses, birds, and reptiles can live for several decades.
New Jersey, Michigan, Montana, and Alaska will terminate the trust after 21 years, even if the pets are still alive. Otherwise, Britney’s pups would continue to enjoy their lavish lifestyle until the funds run dry. In Britney’s case, if she dies a day after adopting a newborn puppy, with a 30-year lifespan, the luxury would cost about $1 million by the time the trust term ends.
The average pet does not need such a large pet trust as Britney’s pack. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to explain how pet trusts work in your state and how to set up and fund a pet trust.
Reference: Trust Advisor (May 1, 2017) “Britney Spears Pet Fetish Feeds New Estate Planning Craze”