We all know that providing for loved ones in the event of our death or incapacity is important. But what about our pets? Many people view their pets as family and they too should be thought of when you create or update your estate plan. All 50 states as well as the District of Columbia have pet trust laws that allow you to provide housing and care for any pets who survive you. In Pennsylvania, 20 Pa.C.S. §7738 and in New Jersey, N.J. Stat. § 3B:11-38 are the laws that govern Pet Trusts. Both laws only cover animals that survive you. In Pennsylvania the trust terminates upon the death of the animal or the last surviving animal covered by the trust. In New Jersey, the trust terminates upon the death of the animal or the last surviving animal covered by the trust or after 21 years, whichever occurs earlier.
In addition to providing funds for their care, a Pet Trust allows you to specify how your pet(s) should be cared for. From telling future caregivers what they eat, how many times they should be walked, which vet you prefer they see, to what their favorite toys and treats are. Both PA and NJ laws allow you to appoint a trustee, but if you do not appoint someone, the Court may make the appointment.
Of course, the big question is “where will my pet live and who will care for them?” You don’t want your pet to end up in a shelter. If you are unsure that a trusted friend or family member can or would be willing to care for your pet, contact a local rescue and see what policies they have for providing for pets left behind. The rescue may even agree to have you specifically name them in your documents so everyone knows where your pet will go. There are hundreds of rescues that cover virtually every species of animal, from horses to lizards. So, if you are just starting the Estate Planning process or ready to update your existing plan, don’t forget to include your pets.