Is it Possible to Establish a Trust for My Pets?

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates the importance of pets in people’s lives, and the affection that they feel for them, than the events which followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the failure of the levees in New Orleans. When rescuers arrived, some people who had been trapped for days by the floodwaters refused to leave their homes unless they were allowed to bring their pets with them.

Laws on the subject of pet trusts vary from state to state. Since animals are not allowed to be beneficiaries of a trust, various legislative devices have been employed in the past. Some states authorized the creation of “honorary trusts” which could be used to provide for the care of a pet, but were not enforceable by a court. The Uniform Probate Code recognized “pet trusts” in 1990, and the Uniform Trust Code added a pet trust provision in 2000.

However, the Uniform Codes are only recommendations, and each state chooses whether or not to adopt any of their provisions. As of the end of 2014, 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some type of provision which allows creation of a pet trust, some based on the Uniform Probate Code provisions, some based on the Uniform Trust Code provisions, and some on neither, including some remaining “honorary trust” provisions.

The law has traditionally regarded pets as “property” and thus not possessing any rights. In the past, individuals had to do such things as leaving money to a person with instructions to care for their animals, and hope that their wishes would be carried out, since there was no legal way to enforce such a provision. However, a growing recognition of the importance of companion animals to people has led to several advancements in legislative establishment of means to protect animals left behind.