Pet trusts: Caring for a pet that outlives its owner

Last updated June 2019

Under traditional trusts and estate law, a pet owner could do little to ensure that their animal would be provided for properly after the owner's death. Those who did attempt to create some sort of "trust," ran into legal problems because animals are considered a type of property and the pet could not legally be a beneficiary to a trust.

A provision in the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) adopted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1990 signaled a change in the law and included a provision allowing for the care of a pet that outlives its owner. Section 2-907(b) provided for enforceable trusts for the care of a designated domestic animal and the animal's offspring. Section 408 of the Uniform Trust Code (UTC), approved in 2000, updated the provision by referring to a trust for any animal, not just a pet, and authorizing persons with an interest in the welfare of the animal to petition for appointment or removal of an enforcer of the trust.

Currently, all 50 states have adopted one of these model law provisions, or their own version of animal trust legislation. Many of these laws have been enacted in recent years. Minnesota is the latest state to adopt such a law in 2016, and is based on Section 408 of the UTC, set out below for illustration purposes:

501C.0408. Trust for care of animal.

  1. A trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor's lifetime. The trust terminates upon the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal alive during the settlor's lifetime, upon the death of the last surviving animal. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the trust may not be enforced for more than 90 years.
  2. A trust authorized by this section may be enforced by a person appointed in the terms of the trust or, if no person is appointed, by a person appointed by a court. A person having an interest in the welfare of the animal may request the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust or to remove an appointed person.
  3. Property of a trust authorized by this section may be applied only to the trust's intended use, except to the extent a court determines that the value of the trust property exceeds the amount required for the intended use. Upon termination of the trust, or if the court determines the trust has excess funds, the trustee shall transfer the unexpended or excess trust property pursuant to the terms of the trust instrument or, if there is no provision in the trust instrument, then the trust passes to the settlor's heirs-at-law determined as if the settlor died intestate domiciled in this state at the time of distribution.

In most states, a pet trust allows a person to set aside a sum of money to care for the pet. This may occur in regular disbursements of the funds, or in the manner the trust specifies. Further, an owner can make specific instructions regarding feeding, housing, and veterinary care. Generally, the trust lasts as long as the last animal named lives. Some owners specify that the remaining money left in trust after the pet dies should be provided to a non-profit animal welfare organization.

As this is a complex area of the law, we advise pet owners considering a trust for their animal to consult an attorney familiar with that state's pet trust law.

Below you will find a link to the Animal Legal and Historical Web Center at Michigan State University College of Law, which maintains information on animal trusts and specific state animal trust laws.

Source: Staff research, AVMA Division of State Advocacy
Contact: State Policy Analyst, AVMA Division of State Advocacy