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Peace of mind that is better than a million belly scratches.

Peace of mind that is better than a million belly scratches.

January 26, 2017

By Johnson/Turner Legal

Peace of mind that is better than a million belly scratches.

January 26, 2017

By Johnson/Turner Legal

Minnesota has updated its estate planning laws regarding pets. This is a big, hairy (furry, fluffy, scaly) deal. And I’m going to tell you why. 

A boxer dog in a grassy fieldA black labrador dog sits in front of the camera

I understand that you might have trouble taking this article seriously since its author has no formal education aside from that unfortunate and brief encounter with obedience school, but rest assured—no one is more serious about this topic than I am.

Until 2016, Minnesota bucked a nationwide trend toward giving pet owners the opportunity to leave gifts for their pets as part of an estate plan. Well-meaning Minnesota pet owners would create provisions in their wills for pets, but under Minnesota law, those provisions were unenforceable. How sad is that? All these pet parents went to so much trouble to ensure that Fido would be taken care of, only to have Fido put out to pasture (proverbially…or literally) because the provision wouldn’t stand up in court.

That meant that, for most of my life, my penpal Rover on the east coast could inherit a fortune and be rolling in piles of bones for life, while I just had to cross my fingers (er, paws) and hope that whomever was entrusted with my care would actually take care of me.

That has all changed. The Minnesota legislature updated its statute, which now allows an individual to set aside money or other assets for their pet, using a trust.

(Psst—a trust is a set of guidelines by which property is held. A trust acts like an entity separate from you, and the person put in charge of that trust is called a trustee. You can set up very specific rules regarding management of your property, such as: “Dottie gets $20,000 and that evil cat Fifi gets absolutely nothing.” Trusts allow for much more specificity and flexibility—or rigidity, depending on your goals—than a will. I know all this, because my human is a very smart paralegal with Johnson/Turner Legal.)

Long story short: This statute update is a really good thing for pets like me and the humans who love us. Many pet parents worry about what will happen if their pet outlives them. They may want a trusted friend or family member to care for their pet, but want to ensure that the responsibility doesn’t come with an undue financial burden. After all, what happens if your college-aged daughter inherits Fido but then Fido needs surgery? Not so fun for your daughter unless money has been set aside for Fido’s care.

A pet trust also ensures that your wishes are carried out and, that the court will uphold those wishes if anything goes wrong. For instance: Perhaps you want your nephew to take Fido if something happens to you, and you’ve set aside a chunk of money for Fido’s care. But then your nephew decides to—gasp!—drop Fido off at the pound. As horrifying as it sounds, until 2016, a court couldn’t hold your nephew responsible for abandoning Fido. That’s ruff. (Sorry. Bad pun.)

Today, when a pet trust is in place, if the appointed trustee is not doing a good job, a concerned party—such as another relative or the ASCPA—can speak up and ask the court to re-appoint another trustee. The court can also appoint a trustee if the intended trustee can’t take ownership of your pet.

A pet trust is subjected to a number of restrictions. A few examples:

  • The pet must be alive during the owner’s lifetime. That means my human can’t create a trust for theoretical future grandpets. (I don’t even have a boyfriend, anyway.)
  • The trust terminates when the animal dies, but if the trust is intended for multiple pets, it sustains until the last named pet dies.
  • The trust cannot be enforced for more than 90 years. You may laugh at the idea of a 90-year-old pet, unless you’re the proud owner of a giant turtle or Amazonian parrot.

You might be wondering what, exactly, you can leave for your pet. Most people leave money. You may have read about Trouble, the Maltese who inherited $12 million. (No, I’m not kidding.) You may also leave other assets if they can be theoretically used for the pet’s care or sold to provide for the pet. In other words, I can’t drive your convertible, but my trustee could either use the convertible to take me to vet appointments or sale it and buy me a ridiculous number of toys.

I know that so many of you pet parents think of your pets as furbabies. You want to provide for us and ensure our wellbeing, even when you can’t be here anymore. But so many pet parents don’t understand the intricacies of the law or haven’t heard about the updated statute, and that means beloved pets like me might be out of luck. If you’re a pet parent, please take the time to speak with an attorney about creating or revising your estate plan to make certain that your furbaby will be in good hands, regardless of what happens to you. That peace of mind is better than a million belly scratches.


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