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March 17, 2012 Leave a comment


By:  Nadine M. Catalfimo, Esq., Trust & Estate Law

We love our pets…. a lot.  And they love us back unconditionally.  My dog, Sam, was a handsome male German shepherd dog, and the best friend I ever had.  He was a member of my family.  He died from a failing liver after 11.5 years.  During his last weeks, I spent thousands of dollars trying to save his life on veterinary visits, prescriptions, antibiotics, hydration, special food,  x-rays and an MRI.   I doubt someone else would have spent the money and time that I did trying to save his life.  If anything ever happened to me when he was alive, I would have wanted someone to provide a loving home for him, with the food, monthly prescriptions and veterinary care he needed and also to try to save his life like I did — even if it cost thousands of dollars.  During a pet’s last days, it is common to incur some serious veterinary bills.

So what can you do to plan ahead for your pet in case it outlives you?  There are a few options. 

ESTATE PLANNING.  If you already have an estate plan, preparing a codicil to your Will or an amendment to your Trust to plan for your pet is simple.

DESIGNATE SOMEONE.  First, you need to determine who will be taking your pet should you die and talk to that person about it now.  It is wise to designate an alternate individual in case your first choice is unable to take custody for some reason (living arrangements, allergies, etc.).  Don’t assume your family or friends will take your pet for you without any discussions – make someone responsible now and discuss it so they feel obligated to step in when you are gone and then formalize it by adding a provision to your Will and or Trust. 

The person designated should also be told to go pick up your pet immediately if something happens to you so that your pet is not left alone in your home until someone checks on your home, a week or two after your death.  It happens.  I have dealt with estates where the Executor didn’t know the decedent even had a pet, until they went to the home to surprisingly find a neglected and undernourished pet.  Also, situations where a neighbor wanted the pet, but the pet was brought to a shelter instead because no one knew about the arrangements.

THE GENERAL LAW.  Pets are considered personal property and pass under the provisions of the personal property provision in a Will or Revocable Trust, to the extent it is not specified who gets the pet upon the owner’s death.  If there is no personal property provision in a Will, a pet will pass as specified under the residuary clause.  If there is a Revocable Trust and all personal property was transferred into it already, then the provisions of the Trust may control who gets the pet, absent a specific provision.  Pets are permissible beneficiaries under the law in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

CONDITIONAL MONEY BEQUEST.  It is possible to give your pet to someone with a conditional money bequest that provides the person take custody of the pet first.  However, the person can take the money and still dispose of the pet after.   It is a horrible thought, but it can happen.

PET TRUSTS.  You can also set up a “Pet Trust” to benefit your pet and fund it with a specific amount of money.  This is specifically authorized under both Massachusetts and New Hampshire law (see Mass. Gen. Laws  §203:3C and New Hampshire RSA 564-B:4-408). 

A Trustee is designated (which may be the same person who is caring for your pet or a completely separate individual) to manage the money for the benefit of your pet. 

Under New Hampshire law, to the extent the trust exceeds the amount needed for the purpose of the pet trust, the excess must be distributed to the person who created the trust, if living, or otherwise to his or her successors in interest.  Massachusetts  has a similar statutory provision which provides that to the extent the amount in trust is substantially in excess of the amount needed,  the excess passes pursuant to the terms of the trust, or otherwise as set forth under Mass. Gen. Laws §203:3C. Thus, one should designate a beneficiary to receive any excess monies and the remaining funds in the pet trust upon a pet’s death, so that the funds in trust do not revert back to the estate and trigger a probate administration. 

Your Executor (also known as a Personal Representative in MA), and the Trustee can also be authorized to pay veterinary bills to maintain or restore a pet’s health and other expenses for its care, placement, or transportation (after your death), either from the trust or directly from the residue of the probate estate, to the extent there is not a pet trust. 

There are many options to plan ahead for your pet.  Please call today to discuss these options and how you can incorporate “pet planning” into your estate plan to make sure your pet is properly cared for upon your death. 


MA – (978) 364-0805

NH – (603) 952-4491

 This information is provided as general information only and is not intended to be legal advice.  You should contact an attorney to review your specific legal situation and advise you accordingly.  The information in this article does not create an attorney/client relationship.