Many people view their pets as members of the family. Devoted pet owners, especially aging pet owners, often worry how the pet will be cared for, and by whom, in the event of the owner’s death or disability.
For New Jersey pet owners, a pet trust fund may put an end to worrying about a pet’s long term care. The New Jersey Legislature (some of them presumably pet lovers themselves) has expressly recognized pet trust funds as valid. Here are a few rules to keep in mind about pet trusts in New Jersey:
A pet trust for a domesticated animal will end either when no living animal is covered by the trust, or at the end of 21 years, whichever is earlier. That may be bad news for owners of pets who have long life spans-some parrots, like the popular African Grey, can live 60 years or more. It is currently unclear how the Courts would handle this issue.
The “trustee” of the pet trust is the person who would manage the property of the trust. For example, if you left $10,000 for the care of a pet, the trustee would be the person in charge of that money. Even if the pet owner who created the trust has no trustee able or willing to serve, the court will appoint a trustee.
The trustee can only use the trust property for the benefit of the animal (unless the trust expressly provides otherwise). In addition to appointing a trustee, a pet owner should appoint a caregiver for the animal. The trustee would handle the money; the caregiver would be in charge of the care for the animal. Without a caregiver able to speak for the pet, a trustee could misappropriate the trust property.
Remember the “Queen of Mean”, Leona Helmsley? She left a $12 million dollar trust fund to her white Maltese, Trouble. Unfortunately there was trouble for Trouble: a Judge in New York reduced the amount of the pet trust from $12 million to $2 million. New Jersey courts also have the power to reduce the amount of property in the pet trust if the court determines the amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the trust’s intended use.