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Pet Trusts

Pet Trusts
Domenick N. Calabrese, Judge
Connecticut Probate District 22 

It’s estimated that two-thirds of American households currently have at least one pet, a number that has steadily increased since the end of World War II. With the increasing number of households with pets, a growing industry devoted to helping Americans better care for, and even indulge, their pets has developed. Businesses that provide pet day care, pet sitters, grooming, spa services and even pet cemeteries have become more common.

Along with these developments, several states have made changes to their laws to help people provide for the care of their pets after the owner’s death. In Connecticut, Public Act No. 09-169 “AN ACT CONCERNING THE CREATION OF A TRUST FOR THE CARE OF AN ANIMAL” was signed into law, effective October 1, 2009. This new law formally recognizes trusts dedicated to the care of an animal, commonly referred to as “pet trusts.” Up until October 1, 2009, pet trusts were “honorary,” meaning they were not recognized by Connecticut courts and could not be enforced in Connecticut courts.

The new law provides that pet trusts are to be treated much the same as other types of trusts: Connecticut law that applies to trusts in general will also apply to pet trusts, with a few differences.

One of these differences is the requirement that a pet trust in Connecticut must name a trust protector. Because the beneficiary of a pet trust is an animal, someone needs to be appointed by the trust to look out for the pet’s interests in case the trustee breaches their duty under the trust.

To illustrate the role of a trust protector, let’s look at an example. Mary Jones set up a pet trust for the benefit of her two cats, naming her friend and fellow cat lover Elizabeth the trustee, and naming her brother Jacob the trust protector. Mary funded the trust with $140,000. Just three months later, Mary passes away, and her two cats, who survive Mary, are cared for by Elizabeth under Mary’s pet trust. A year later, it appears that Mary’s two cats are not being properly cared for by Elizabeth. Jacob also notices that Elizabeth traded in her 1990 four door sedan and purchased an expensive new BMW automobile, and hears that Elizabeth has taken a three week vacation to Bali. Putting these facts together, Jacob is concerned that Elizabeth may be mismanaging the pet trust, and failing to properly care for Mary’s two cats. Under the new law, Jacob has the ability to go to the probate court or Superior Court to have Elizabeth account for the trust assets, and also look into whether the cats are being properly cared for. The court may remove Elizabeth as trustee and appoint a successor trustee. If Elizabeth has been stealing from the trust, the court can also take action to have Elizabeth pay back trust funds she misappropriated.

Pet trusts can be useful in a number of situations. Should the owner of a pet die, a pet trust can ensure that the pet will continue to be taken care of, provided a home, food and veterinary care. A pet trust can also be useful when the owner of a pet becomes incapacitated and is no longer capable of caring for their pet. An adequately funded pet trust can give a pet owner peace of mind that should something happen to him or her, their pet will continue to be provided for, and not end up in an animal shelter or otherwise be abandoned.
 
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, nor should it be relied upon, for legal advice. Readers should retain the services of competent legal counsel for advice as to your particular situation.

Copyright ©2009 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved.

 

  The focus of the probate court is to provide friendly, responsive service to all. 
However, Connecticut law prohibits probate court staff from giving legal advice.
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