August 27, 2012

Pet Trusts in Maryland

I grew up in a veritable zoo. My family included dogs, cats, parrots, lizards, frogs, turtles, fish, and hermit crabs. My parents spare no expense when it comes to their pets, and the care of the menagerie trumped everything else. My mother's mantra is "Animals can't care for themselves" - which is very true, especially if something happens to the pet owner. My mother has always maintained a list of people to call in the event that she and my father pass away. This list includes various breeders, family members, friends, aviaries and wildlife preserves in whom my mother has faith to take care of her furry, feathered and scaly friends. Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to care for Bandit, the dog my husband and I adopted last fall, should something happen to us.

Fortunately, in 2009, Maryland enacted a 'pet trust' law to allow pet owners a formal mechanism to provide for their pets after the owner's incapacitation or death. The trust can be created for the benefit of an animal alive during the lifetime of the settlor. The trust terminates with the death of the animal (or the death of the last remaining animal if the trust provides for multiple pets). The trust may be enforced by a person appointed by the trust or by the court if the trust does not appoint someone. Further, a person with an interest in the welfare of the animal can petition the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust. In the trust, settlor's can provide express instruction for distribution of trust funds after the passing of their pet. If the funds of the trust are not used in full, the remaining funds can be distributed to the settlor or the settlor's successors. MD Estates & Trust Section 14-112.

Generally, a pet trust consists of a trustee and a caregiver. The caregiver provides the daily care for the pet, while the trustee oversees the handling of the trust to ensure the caregiver's compliance with the terms of the trust. Pet trusts allow the pet owner to have control over the care of their pet. Rather than rely on the goodwill of those tasked with caring for an orphaned pet, the trust can designate the standard of care for the pet. Trusts can direct veterinary care, diet, boarding, and the general standard of living to be maintained for the benefit of the pet. Additionally, the trust can provide compensation to the trustee and the caregiver.