Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Estate planning provides a method to provide for those whom we want to comfort after we die and to those who have comforted us. Family members and friends can be a source of tremendous support but they may also let you down in a variety of ways ranging from minor betrayals to orchestrating your own death. Pet animals, however, have a much better track record in providing unconditional love and steadfast loyalty. It is not surprising that a pet owner often wants to assure that his or her trusted companion is well-cared for after the owner’s death.
The American legal system, which should respect a person’s desires and accommodate them as long as they are not harmful to others or against public policy, has a mediocre record when it comes to permitting pet owners to arrange after-death care of their pets. Over the past decade, the law has made admirable steps forward. State legislatures are increasingly enacting § 2-907 of the Uniform Probate Code or a functional equivalent thereof. However, this trend needs to continue so that every state has legislation authorizing pet owners to create enforceable long-term care trusts for their pets. Regardless of the existence of enabling legislation, pet owners may carefully prepare enforceable trusts under traditional trust law which assure proper care for their animals. Attorneys who prepare wills and other estate planning documents must be alert to the important role pets frequently play in their clients’ lives and take the appropriate steps to help clients provide short- and long-term quality care for their "other" loved ones.