Pet adoptions surged during the COVID pandemic when many people were home. The healing power of pets is well known, particularly for older adults. Many rescue groups require older adults who are adopting a pet to have a plan in place for any unexpected illness or incapacity.
In April 2011, Massachusetts enacted a Pet Trust statute. In 2012, the legislature enacted the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (MUTC) and repealed the 2011 Pet Trust statute as the MUTC included Pet Trusts. Creating a Pet Trust eases any concerns that your pets could end up at a shelter when you can no longer care for them.
A Pet Trust can be created in a Will or during your lifetime. An issue with a Pet Trust created in a Will is that the person or persons named to care for the pets do not have authority to act or have any access to the funds until the Will is allowed by the court. This can sometimes take up to a month. You should create a Pet Trust prior to any incapacity. An advantage to a Pet Trust created and funded during your lifetime is the immediate authority of the Trustee to act, and the immediate accessibility to money in the Trust. With such a Trust, if you become incapacitated and cannot care for your pets, the person or persons named as Trustee can access the funds immediately to ensure the continuing care of your pets.
A Pet Trust should ideally include provisions within the document for appointments of a caretaker, the Trustee, and someone to monitor the jobs of both. An individual can be appointed to more than one of those roles, but it is a good idea to name different persons for these roles to ensure accountability. The Trust should also include the names of your pets, a detailed plan of care, when the Trust will terminate, and how any remaining funds will be distributed after termination of the trust. Successors should also be named.
Your Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy should also have clauses that refer to any Pet Trust created, to ensure the continuing care of your pets if you become ill or incapacitated. Your Power of Attorney could allow the release of any funds to the Pet Trust, and the mention of your pets in your Health Care Proxy alerts your health care agent to contact the named caretaker and trustee to see to the continuing care of your pets.