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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

Q: Do I need a pet trust?

Many people know that one of the most important functions of a last will and testament–also known simply as a “will”, is to designate legal guardians (and successor guardians) for minor children. If you die before your children reach the age of majority and you have not executed a will that designated their legal guardians, a judge will decide who raises your children – – and it may not be someone you would have chosen. A will serves many other purposes, and is the starting point for most customized estate planning in New York and New Jersey.

But what happens to your pets when you die?

Most people have an informal arrangement with family or friends regarding who will care for their pet if they die, or it just works itself out somehow when the time comes. But if you don’t mention them in your will or provide for them through a trust, they technically become part of your residuary estate and go to whoever you’ve designated to receive your residuary estate in your will. The residuary estate is what is left over after any special designations and bequests have been doled out to specific people or entities.

If you die without a will, pets would legally go to whomever the intestacy laws of your state direct. Intestacy laws differ from state to state and come into play to distribute the property of someone who dies without a will. Intestacy applies to property that doesn’t automatically pass to someone else upon the owner’s death.

Many people with pets –  or “furbabies” as some people refer to them – consider their pets to be family members. As such, they may have specific ideas on who they do and do not want to become the pet’s caretaker if they were to die. If so, it’s important to discuss your pets and your plans for their care with your estate planning attorney.

Trusts are an important part of many people’s estate plans and serve many different functions, from Medicaid planning, to special needs planning, and more.

Some people create pet trusts. Though relatively uncommon, trusts can be helpful in cases where the caretaker might need funds to provide for the pet’s ongoing care, food, vet bills, and grooming needs or otherwise have to decline the responsibility.

Pet trusts are also helpful if the pet has a very long life expectancy. For example, some parrots and other large birds can live as long as 40, 50, or even 75 years. Some turtles also have extended life spans. Through a pet trust, a specific sum is set aside for the pet’s care, including instructions on how the money should be used and where the remaining funds should go after the pet dies. Each situation is different, so discussing options with an estate planning attorney is the best way to come to the right solution for your circumstances.

Contact Our New York and New Jersey Estate Planning Attorney Today

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all aspects of estate planning and estate administration.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.