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Court of Wills, Estates & Probate

The following articles were written by former Probate Judge Merri Rudd.

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Trusts for Pets

9:27 AM
Merri Rudd

Q: I am single, childless, and have a cat and a dog who are like family to me. My health is not good, and I am concerned about who will care for my pets if I die. Can pets be the beneficiaries of my estate? R.W., Albuquerque

Believe it or not, a New Mexico law contains specific provisions about creating trusts for pets. You can create a trust for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal. The trust ends when no living animal is covered by the trust.

Unless you provide otherwise, proceeds of the trust must be used for the care of the animals and not for the use of the trustee (the person who manages the trust funds) or any other use outside of the trust's purposes. If you do not name a trustee or the named trustee cannot or will not serve, a court will appoint a trustee.

You can name a caretaker for your pets, and you could provide that the caretaker be paid if you have enough assets. Your trust should also state who is to receive any remaining trust funds and property after your pets die. I would recommend hiring a knowledgeable estate planning attorney if you wish to set up such a trust to make sure your wishes are stated accurately.

Normally trust documents require accountings and other safeguards. New Mexico's law does not require accountings or reports for a trust for pets, but you can include provisions for accountings in your trust document if you wish.

A court can reduce the amount of the property transferred to the trust for your pets, if it determines the amount you leave substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use. I suppose this means you can keep your animals in the style to which they have become accustomed, but no greater style.

Finally, make sure that any caretaker you choose knows and likes your pets, is willing to care for them, and is trustworthy. One pet trust story involved Chauncy, a black Labrador dog, whose owner died (not in New Mexico). A neighbor was designated Chauncy's caretaker and got a $1,000 per month fee, plus the right to live rent-free in Chauncy's old owner's house. Chauncy died, so the caretaker got a second look-alike dog and named him Chauncy. The bank trust officers did not know the difference. After the third Chauncy, the bank wised up, since the original Chauncy would have been 21 years old by then.

Previous columns can be found at www.bernco.gov (click on "Probate Judge," then click on "Ask the Probate Judge.")

8 2002, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved

Appeared January 10, 2002 Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook

Reprinted with permission

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