“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mohandas Gandhi

I love my horse.  We have had some truly amazing times in the decade that I have known him; swimming in the ocean, galloping up and across sand dunes, peaceful walks in the woods, and many, many wonderful conversations.  He is majestic; wise and powerful and good, and we have a bond that nothing can sever.  I shudder to think that, someday, he won’t be there.  Age or illness will undoubtedly get the best of him, and we will be apart.  There is something worse though.  What if something happens to me first?  Who will care for this animal I consider one of my best friends?  What with boarding fees, farrier fees and general equine supplies, the monthly cost of owning a horse is more than a car payment.  I know my friends and family would want the best for him, but who could or would assume that kind of payment on an animal that they do not have a special bond with and who could live for years and years to come?  My beloved horse would most certainly end up in a shelter where he would most likely receive the bare minimum level of care.  I’m an estate planning attorney; shouldn’t I have the ability to circumvent this undesirable result?  Well, I do!  And you do too!

Until now, Massachusetts residents were prohibited from leaving financial support for the care of a surviving pet; they could only name a caretaker for the pet, leave money to the caretaker, and hope that the caretaker did the right thing.  However, there was no legal obligation for the caretaker to spend the money on the animal’s care, or, for that matter, to even keep the animal.

Thankfully, things have changed!  Pet owners in Massachusetts may now take comfort in the fact that they can legally provide for their beloved animals if they become disabled or die.  On January 7, 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed a law authorizing the creation of trusts to provide for the care of pets, joining 42 other states that have similar statutes.  The new law, which goes into effect in approximately 90 days, applies to all pets, not just horses.

Under the new law:

  • Pet owners may establish a legally valid trust for the care of pets following the owner’s death.  The trust would remain in effect until a date specified by the owner or until the pet dies.  Those entrusted with the care of a pet would be precluded from using the funds for any other purpose.
  • If a person or organization believes that the money set aside in the trust for pet care is being misused, there are legal avenues to enforce the deceased owner’s wishes.

In response to the new law, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals observed that now “pet owners will be assured that their directions regarding companion animals will be carried out.”  Pet trust funds are a growing trend in the United States but they are not an American-only practice.  England has allowed provisions to benefit pets and other animals in wills for over a century.

We as a firm are truly excited about this most welcome development in Massachusetts law.  As animal lovers, we understand the concerns of many of our clients who mention their pets during the estate planning process.  Dogs, cats and other loyal companions become an important part of the family.  Until now, clients have not had truly effective options to provide for their pets post-mortem.  This new law provides a much needed and very welcome solution.

For your peace of mind and to secure your pet’s future, contact an estate planning attorney today!

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