Can Pets Inherit?

July 15, 2022

For so many of us, pets are part of the family. Everywhere you go, you likely notice that people bring their dogs along these days; and many pets, such as birds and tortoises, have long life spans. So, you might worry about what will happen to your beloved fur baby when you are gone. Unfortunately, you can’t leave a bequest directly to your pet in your will because that still leaves open the issue of who will care for the pet. While some pet owners certainly consider their animals to be part of the family, the law considers animals property. However, individuals often set up pet trusts to ensure that their animals are taken care of when they are no longer around to do so. You don’t have to be a billionaire or millionaire to set up a pet trust, and making sure your pet will be cared for if you become unable to can put your mind at ease.

Pet Trust Laws

If you care about your pets, it makes sense to make arrangements for them when you are no longer able to care for them. Often, other family members don’t want the additional responsibility that would come with adopting the pet, and the pets frequently end up at shelters.

All 50 states plus the District of Columbia have enacted pet trust laws. Some states impose funding limits that permit the court to redirect trust property in excess of the inherited use set forth in the trust.

Ohio Revised Code Section 5804.08 became effective in 2007, and Ohio is one of the states permitted to redirect funds in excess of the intended use. The statute establishes the following rules for pet owners creating trusts:

  • A trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime. The trust terminates upon the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime, upon the death of the last surviving animal.
  • A person appointed in the terms of a trust or, if no person is so appointed, a person appointed by the court may enforce a trust authorized by this section. A person having an interest in the welfare of an animal that is provided care by a trust authorized by this section may request the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust or to remove a person appointed.
  • The property of a trust authorized by this section may be applied only to its intended use, except to the extent the court determines that the value of the trust property exceeds the amount required for the intended use. Except as otherwise provided in the terms of the trust, property not required for the intended use must be distributed to the settlor if then living or the settlor’s successors in interest.

What to Include in a Pet Trust

In Ohio, a grantor can create a trust to provide for the care of either one animal or a number of animals. Once the last surviving animal named in the trust dies, the trust terminates. Like a traditional trust, a pet trust must be funded to provide assets to pay for the continued care of the pet. A Trustee must be named to administer the trust. The trustee may or may not be the animal’s caregiver. The trustee can hire a caregiver if that makes more sense using funds from the trust to pay the caregiver. Also, choosing a caregiver separate from the trustee can provide checks and balances to make sure the pet is taken care of properly.

The following provisions should be included in a pet trust:

  • Name a trustee and alternate trustee
  • Name a caregiver and alternate caregiver (also give the trustee authority to employ a caregiver in the alternative)
  • Detailed instructions for your pet
  • Any medical history and identify a veterinarian you prefer (but also give the trustee authority to choose a veterinarian in the alternative)
  • State how the funds in the trust should be distributed and used
  • State what should happen upon the pet’s death

You should also make sure to fund the trust with enough assets based on its projected life span.

Although you can’t leave a bequest directly to your pet in your will, you can include provisions in your will for the disposition and care of your pet after your death. However, a pet trust is likely to be more effective in making sure your pet is taken care of exactly the way you would take care of your pet yourself.

If you are interested in establishing a trust for your pet, please reach out to KJK Estate, Wealth & Succession Planning Attorney Susan Friedman (SLF@kjk.com; 216.736.7272) for further questions or clarifications.